James Lecesne says that he’s been telling stories for over 30 years. “Whether I’m writing, acting, producing or trying to create social change, it’s usually the story that gets me involved. But in the process of getting things done and trying to make the world a better place, I’ve also been telling the story of my life. It’s not over yet.”
This is true. While best known for writing the 1995 short film Trevor — based on a character from his 1995 one-man show, Word of Mouth, it won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film and inspired the founding of The Trevor Project, the only nationwide 24-hour suicide prevention and crisis intervention lifeline for LGBT and questioning youth — Lecesne is now poised to be known for a new play about family and dementia called The Mother of Invention.
Produced by Off-Broadway’s Abingdon Theatre Company and staged by artistic director Tony Speciale, The Mother of Invention posits a scenario that anyone — well, anyone long enough beyond their youth — can surely envision:
When Dottie Nerber’s son and daughter arrive to pack up the contents of their mother’s Florida home, their conflicting memories of her collide. As the siblings unpack family secrets, they must separate fact from fiction and are forced to question the narratives of their own lives. James Lecesne’s new full-length play is an unflinching and comedic look at how one family deals with the effects of Alzheimer’s. It asks why we tell the stories we do about the people we love, and how we live with those stories after they’ve been debunked.
Lecesne has also been on a roll of late. In February 2015, his play The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey — a solo show he adapted from his 2008 young adult novel — opened at NYC’s Dixon Place and the critic were indeed enraptured. You can forgive Lecesne for referencing this line from The New York Times review:
A show about the brutal murder of a 14-year-old boy should not, logically speaking, leave you beaming with joy. And yet that’s the paradoxical effect of The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey…
The Mother of Invention stars Concetta Tomei, Dale Soules, James Davis, Dan Domingues, Angela Reed and Isabella Russo, and plays at the June Havoc Theatre (312 W. 36th St.) through Feb. 26. For tickets, click here.
And now, 5 questions that James Lecesne has never been asked:
What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?
Q: “If you had to be known for one piece of work, which one would it be?”
What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?
Q: “How do you remember all the words?”
A: “I wrote them.”
What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?
Q: “Are you famous?”
A: “If you have to ask, then the answer is ‘no.'”
Given how common Alzheimer’s unfortunately is, it feels like a wonder there aren’t more plays on this topic. Do you have a personal tie to the subject and how did you translate that into a play?
There have been a few very good plays that address the issue of Alzheimer’s in the past couple of years — most notably, The Father by Florian Zeller and Dot by Colman Domingo. I think many of us are reaching an age when we are dealing with a parent or parents who are suffering from some form of dementia. My own mother had Alzheimer’s, and though the illness presented all kinds of challenges for us all, it also forced us to become more of a family. Suddenly, we had no choice but to communicate with one another, manage situations together, find solutions and negotiate real-life problems that my mother was no longer able to handle for herself.
This part of the play’s description — “why we tell the stories we do about the people we love…how we live with those stories after they’ve been debunked” — feels spot-on. How do your relationships with your closest family members differ, perception-wise, from how others in your family perceive those family members?
We all perceive the world through our own personal lens and we make up stories about the people around us in order to suit our needs. Even growing up in the same household and with the same parents, siblings can have very different experiences. My own experience within my family was informed by the fact that I was gay — this set me apart from all my family members and to some extent made me a stranger in their midst. I couldn’t allow them to know the real me, not until I was much older. I’m sure my perception of them was informed by my outsider status. I’m not sure I know how they perceived me, or one another, but writing a play is always an exercise in testing the limits of our singular perception.
Someone you know and love is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Which scenes of the play, but in real-life, do you imagine yourself appearing in first?
I just love the scene with Ryder and her grandmother, Dottie, on the back steps near the end of the play. Their simple human exchange takes place with the full understanding of Dottie’s illness, but it doesn’t limit their communication. It expands it and proves that connection and humor are always a possibility.