Not Even the Good Things” is a must-see new play by Joseph Scott Ford that will premiere on Wednesday, July 10th at Manhattan’s Theatre Row and officially open July 16 for a limited engagement through July 27th. Directed by Kelsey Claire, the play stars a brilliant cast of seven, and it is as heartfelt as it is high-octane, unsettling, and gleefully bizarre.

The play revolves around a group of millennials trying to enjoy a “well-deserved” vacation in a mountain cabin.

The only trouble is…someone else is already there. A young girl that, inexplicably, only one of the characters is able to see. Try as he might to ignore her and enjoy himself, she won’t go away. As the night rages on, the vacation starts to unravel, and the true nature of the girl’s presence becomes clear. The nature of loyalty, shame, privilege, and more are all on display in this innovative dark comedy.

Playwright Joseph Scott Ford discussed this new play and more via an exclusive interview on July 1, 2019.

Acting, plays, and audiences

Meagan Meehan (MM): You are an actor, so how did you make the transition from performing to playwriting?

Joseph Scott Ford (JSF): It was a couple of things. Around the time I finished acting school a few years ago, I began struggling with depression. Long story short, I’d made the quantum leap from Born-Again Christian to Atheist, essentially, overnight. After that, managing my own emotional state each day took about all I had.

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The joy of acting was largely gone. But then something beautiful happened. I started getting treatment, I got better rapidly, and my creative energy came rushing back. Then out of the blue my wife, Kelsey Claire, sent me this brilliant short play that she’d written. I was so inspired that I wrote a short play in response. We kept writing plays back and forth to each other. They were all about death, but we called them our Love Letters.

That was it for me. The floodgates opened and all sorts of stories have been pouring out ever since.

MM: To date, how many plays have you written and what are they about?

JSF: Three full-lengths, three shorts, and one act. Plot-wise they’re all over the map, but they’re all dark comedies, and, thematically they explore how we go through life in the context of other inarticulable realities. Each of us at any and every moment is coming from this monumentally particular life experience that’s impossible to contextualize for another person.

And yet, here we are, doing life in the middle. And it’s good, bad, weird, funny, and sad all at the time. So, I’ve written this play where one guy sees this girl that none of his vacation buddies seem to notice, and another play that unfolds in the context of a man who’s hanged himself in rural Oklahoma while the paramedics have to wait for the cops to show up, and another about this erratic movie star and the local struggling New York actress he’s hired to help him rehearse for a huge film he’s clearly not ready to do.

The circumstances are all a little “reality adjacent,” if you will. But the characters are vivid and recognizable, and the dialogue is understated and behavior-driven. Put it all together and I think (I hope) you get a profoundly entertaining, enriching experience for both the actors and audience.

Characters, performers, and challenges

MM: How did you come up with the concept for “Not Even The Good Things”?

JSF: It came from the confluence of my depressed self and my healthy-healing self. I’d been feeling disillusioned by, well, existence, I guess. I’d left my faith, I was floundering in my art, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand how we justified spending money and time on artistic endeavors when all of those resources could be used to help people in real need all over the world. I was haunted for a while. But I was also finally feeling myself again, and I’d discovered this joy in writing, so I put those two selves together to create this play.

MM: Tell us more about the play and what most intrigued you about the characters you created.

JSF: I always tell folks that the play is funny…except when it’s not. You have all these friends gathering to enjoy a “well-deserved” vacation, and that’s exactly what should happen. What’s wrong with having a nice time? Nothing. Except there’s also this girl in the room, and she needs help, and only one person sees her. So, how’s he going to manage that? Hilarity and heartache ensue! As for the characters, it was just a joy to discover them along the way, really. They’re everything I love and don’t love about millennials. They’re made from slivers of myself, from friends, from strangers at restaurants and parties and subways. What I love is how human they are. They’re so specific, and they’re all funny, and they all behave in lovable and unlovable ways. Mickey Roberts (who plays Donald) says there’s this spectrum of gray running through the characters and the play itself that makes it easy to sympathize with everyone’s points of view. It mirrors life in that way. Sea McHale (Bill) told me it's the first play he's read that really captures the soul of our generation. What’s not to love about that?

MM: You have put together an exciting group of young talented performers. Can you tell us about the cast?

JSF: I can’t tell you enough, really. They are dazzling and generous actors, all of them. From Allie Trimm, Sea McHale, Stephon Pettway, and Victoria Janicki, who’ve been excelling in this game for a long time, to Mickey Roberts, Collette Astle, and Serena Parrish who are absolute forces of nature. And our director, Kelsey Claire! She is orchestrating the masterful interplay between them. It’s a tricky play to get just right. There’s a tragicomic balance to keep the whole way through, and they’re nailing it. It’s humbling and thrilling to watch them all work. I don’t know, it’s crazy, but I think we all just fell in love within about five minutes of being in the room together. Something about this play spoke to all of them — or they felt like it spoke for them, perhaps. They believe in the story, they believe in Kelsey, and they believe in each other. Everyone is bringing their A-game each and every day, and it’s just beautiful. It’s special. I can’t put my gratitude into words for the work they’re doing. We’re all having the time of our lives.

MM: Is there a particular scene and lines that are your favorite?

JSF: There are so many moments I love, but I honestly don’t have a favorite. I love how it all builds upon itself. And when you have actors this good, each line is the best line. I do like Grace’s entrance and her hilariously over-the-top riffing on the primeval and ceremonial significance of building a fire. But that’s just because I agree.

MM: Did you have any challenges with lighting, sound, and costumes?

JSF: Only those presented by the budget constraints of independent theater. Our team is phenomenal. Alexander Le Vaillant Freer is a lighting wizard, Oscar Noel Fitzpatrick is a costume auteur, and Tamra Paselk hears truth and nothing but the truth. My job is just to help them do theirs.

MM: What do you want audiences to take away from your play?

JSF: Empathy. It’s all about empathy. That should be the mission of theater, in my opinion. Beyond that, I hope they are grateful that they came. That they feel taken care of in a deep way. My job is to entertain them, and through entertaining, open them up a bit so that the ideas of the play have a place to land. Or nest. Hopefully nest. If folks walk out of the theater feeling more empathetic of their fellow humans, thankful they came, and curious about how they can help the people in need in their lives — well, hot damn. That would be good. That would be the best.

MM: What's next for you, Joseph?

JSF: There’s some big interest in my second play, and we’re working on getting that produced. I’m also finishing up the third script. That’s about all I can say, for the time being, other than everything’s looking good and I’m feeling very thankful. But first, a quick vacation when the limited run of “Not Even The Good Things” is over. My wife and I are gonna get the heck out of here for a bit and probably just sleep for five days!

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