Honors Students” is a new 90-minute play by Mariah MacCarthy that is playing at NYC’s Wild Project from October 26 to November 11, 2018.

The play centers on the exploits of best friends and honor students Kora and Minnie are best friends. Although they are friends, the girls have a volatile relationship which is future threatened by Minnie’s friendship with a girl named Megan, an awkward YouTube sensation...with deadly results.

Mariah MacCarthy is one of downtown Manhattan’s most regaled playwrights.

Theater, plot, and characters

Meagan Meehan (Q): How did you both initially get into theater and how did you come to work together?

Mariah MacCarthy (MM): I was cast as the baby Jesus in a Christmas pageant as a kid, and I guess that was it. I was lucky enough to go to a school from preschool through middle school where acting, singing, dancing, writing, and art were part of the curriculum. I don’t know if I ever “got into” theater because I don’t know if I was ever out of it; my Mom literally was in a tap dance recital while she was pregnant with me.

I met Leta about four different times. She was directing a show that my roommates were in and literally holding rehearsals in my apartment, she knew my coworker at my day job, I was working box office at shows she was stage managing, and probably other paths crossed that I forgot about.

I wrote a modern lesbian musical version of Romeo and Juliet called “Ampersand,” which she came to see a workshop of in a snowstorm when the show was sold out. I was at a friend’s rooftop party when she came up to me and said, “I want to produce Ampersand, and also you should submit to my theater company’s festival.” And I was like, “OK!” The piece I submitted to her company eventually became the first production of the theater company we now share together, Caps Lock Theatre.

That production was “The Foreplay Play” back in 2012. Now we are “art wives,” and we have about three different irons in the fire together right now because we kinda can’t stop collaborating with each other.

Q: What most intrigues you about “Honor Students” and how did you think up the plot and characters?

MM: What I think a lot of people will be surprised by when they see this show is that so many things in it actually happened.

Not to me personally, but to people I know, or people would tell me, “This happened in my hometown,” and it would end up in the play. Teenage girls have the capacity to hold both a formidable intellect and a complete lack of perspective, which was very much the case with me as a kid. These characters take that combination to a dangerous place. While these characters take extreme action that I don’t think reflects most women’s adolescence, I think people respond to this play because it feels emotionally true.

Q: This play is about friends but there is a dark and menacing element to it. What led you to focus on such dark themes within a seemingly normal setting?

MM: You can’t separate them. When I was a teenager, my insides were a dark and terrifying place full of obsession, jealousy, despair, and also sky-high giddy joy.

I mean, let’s be real, those things are still part of me, but I can moderate them better now. I couldn’t moderate any of it at the time. So, the dark themes are inherent to the subject matter, to me. Friendships were and are a devastating business.

Venues, directing, casting and performers

Q: How did you secure the venue and what were the challenges of directing, casting, and sorting out props and costumes?

MM: I’ll let the producers speak to most of this, but I will say that this casting process was an absolute delight, because there was no way we could lose. Talented young actresses are one of New York City’s most plentiful and criminally under-utilized resources. (The ways in which we devalue women performers as they age, thus accounting for the glut of young actresses compared to their older counterparts, is a whole separate conversation but I do feel I should at least mention it.) Props and costumes are still in process, but so far, all the looks I’ve seen on the actors are FIERCE (courtesy of costume designer Iliana Paris), and our Gore Queen/Props Mistress, Stephanie Cox-Connolly, is an endless reservoir of ingenuity.

(Yes, this show requires a Gore Queen.)

Q: What do you hope audiences remember about “Honor Students”?

MM: How much pain these characters are in.

Q: Are you working on anything else for the theater right now and what kinds of subjects/topics might you like to approach artistically in the future?

MM: In January I’ll be having a showing of my musical about Joan of Arc, “You Cannot Destroy Me,” which I’m co-creating with composer Melissa Lusk (with “Honors Students” director Leta Tremblay directing this one as well), as well as the return of Caps Lock Theatre’s annual-ish festival of monologues for women and trans/nonbinary performers, PUSSYFEST. I also wrote a Young Adult novel, “Squad,” which is coming out with FSG in March 2019.

I’d like to write another YA novel, and I’d like to write for television. I love, love, love writing about teenagers. There’s an extremity of emotion I can explore with teenagers that feels like a release for me.

Q: What are your biggest hopes for your careers as writers, directors, and performers?

MM: I want a Pulitzer. An Emmy or an Oscar or a Tony or a Golden Globe would be cool too, but I want a Pulitzer. I want it. I want the Pulitzer. And, to be the showrunner of my own TV show. But honestly, as long as I can write about what I want to write about, have it reach lots of people, and make a decent living, I’ll be good. Sadly, that’s a pretty tall order for writers.

Q: Have you any final statements?

MM: If you find yourself judging these characters, ask yourself why. Ask yourself what your judgment is protecting you from. What would you have to give up in order not to judge them? What might you learn about yourself by relinquishing that judgment?