Tales from The O'Neill: Solid Sand Below & Samsara from the Playwrights Conference

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11 Jul 2013

The National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center is one of the most prestigious workshopping retreats in the countries for writers looking to develop their work.

The 2013 conference currently has eight plays in development, two of which have already been seen by audiences in the form of public readings. Martin Zimmerman's Solid Sand Below and Lauren Yee's Samsara kicked off a series of public readings that will continue through the 28th of July.

Set in two drastically different geographical and cultural settings, the plays are similar in that they both address difficult sociopolitical issues.

"All of the plays are structurally inventive, telling stories that haven't been told before," said Wendy C.Goldberg, artistic director of the Playwrights conference. "There is a sense that this particular artist is telling it in a new way." 

The Solid Sand Below is an exploration of war and its varying effects on people. In 2006, the war in Iraq was in disarray, it was widely criticized and many Americans wanted an exit strategy. In response, President Bush sent in a surge of 30,000 troops in an attempt to stabilize the situation.

Zimmerman's play is set in that timeframe. The narrative follows a young man who enlists in the army in an attempt to prevent being charged for a felony. He lands in Iraq at the beginning of the surge and his resulting transformation that makes up the compelling plot. The impact of engaging in battle is not what the audience would expect. The Solid Sand Below addresses themes of post traumatic stress disorder, the heady dance of warfare and the emptiness that veterans face after returning to lives that suddenly feel silent and hollow.

Zimmerman was inspired to write the play when he read an article about a solider in Iraq who kept reenlisting in the army because he found the experience to be significant. The only reason he stopped was due to the stress his actions caused his mother. The tale of passion inspired Zimmerman, and he immediately immersed himself in first hand accounts of soldiers in Iraq as well as stories by journalists embedded in warzones. Zimmerman is fascinated by the effects of warfare on the human mind and soul.

"We talk about people in combat having a universal experience. They have all been through the same things," he said explaining the idea behind The Solid Sand Below.

"One of the things that struck me in my research was that everyone has a unique experience of it and that often times their sensory perception of what is happening is like unbridgeable divides. Some people will go into it and be completly devastated by it and some people will go into it and will find it incredibly meaningful."

Cast and crew of The Solid Sand Below.


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