Arts

Preview: Director Jesca Prudencio Talks ‘Kairos’ at East West Players

Jesca Prudencio is a choreographer, theatre and film director, and associate professor at San Diego State University. Photo courtesy of Jesca Prudencio

With Artificial Intelligence increasingly becoming a part of our lives, and its capabilities inevitably growing at an exponential rate, it’s only a matter of time before longstanding equations are solved, diseases are cured, and even one’s own mortality no longer beckons — at least in theory.

In their 1986 hit, the band Queen asks a question that everyone will ask themselves at one point in their lives: “Who Wants to Live Forever”? The song is suitably featured in the film, Highlander, where an immortal Scottish warrior lives through the centuries, but is tragically cursed by the memories of having outlived his beloved wife. But what if immortality wasn’t scarce and both partners could acquire it through a groundbreaking procedure? Would there be less incentive to be invested in only one person for all of literal eternity?

In what is the second production of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, Lisa Sanaye Dring’s Kairos (a Greek word in antiquity meaning the “right or critical moment”) touches on such themes and more. Science fiction meets romance and even some dark humor in a play where its two impassioned protagonists Gina and David, portrayed by Sylvia Kwan and Gerard Joseph, are tracked through all four seasons in a moving portrait where urgency is irrelevant, and the concept of time is no longer conceived in a conventional sense.

Jesca Prudencio, the director of Kairos’ West Coast debut at East West Players, refers to the play as “magical realism” where a couple’s unique journey proffers important questions that are closer to fruition than most realize. In a recent interview with LAexcites, Prudencio — who is additionally a filmmaker, choreographer, and professor at San Diego State University — further elaborated on a story that is a romantic comedy at heart.

East West Players’ production of Kairos is written by Lisa Sanaye Dring and directed by Jesca Prudencio. Image courtesy of East West Players

Kairos has it all; it’s got a love story, sci fi, dark comedy, immortality, and the impact of technology. What specifically attracted you to this play?

Prudencio: I’m attracted to work I feel is impossible to do. I know it will activate my creativity if it feels impossible on the page — and this is what this play does. Just the world it takes place in is exciting and emotional. There were a lot of challenges with it, but it moved me so much. The dialogue itself — after reading the play — I had an emotional and physical reaction to it. I knew this couple, this relationship, and was curious about it. If I was this moved reading about it, I knew that our audience would be moved seeing it in our space.

I also wanted to spend time in this world where there is a possibility for us wanting to live forever. There will be a world where this can actually happen — and the question is what does this mean for our relationships?

What has been the extent of your preparation as director? For instance, have you consulted certain books or films of a similar genre?

Prudencio: I’m a Black Mirror fan, and this feels like it could be a part of that world, but ultimately this is a story about a relationship.

So, I spent a lot of time digging into these characters, who they are, the different stages of their life and spending time with the text. Lisa [Sanaye Dring] and I want the audience to be moved, as it feels like an indie romcom in a way, so I studied those [films]. We feel excited about the characters’ love, so it’s not a technology play in a way one might think. It touches on an invention and how that affects a relationship.

A word we’ve been using is ‘organic.’ Even in a world with health advancements, it’s forcing these characters to return and investigate nature. So, you’re going to feel nature in this production as well as the seasons of the year.

(L-R) Gerard Joseph and Sylvia Kwan star in East West Players’ production of Kairos. Photo courtesy of East West Players

To what extent would you say you’ve complemented Lisa Sanaye Dring’s script? Have you been able to add your own touches? Have your actors had the ability to experiment with the material, or was the vision for this fixed from the outset?

Prudencio: Lisa and I work so well together. What’s great about the play is that Lisa wrote [in the script] the ‘director needs to figure it out’ or made references that it’s up to me on how to do something. It’s really fun for me that there isn’t a fixed way she sees certain scenes and wants the director to make a choice and experiment.

The actors aren’t only amazing performers, they have such depth to their performances; there’s wonderful chemistry. They did the reading about a year ago together so there’s already trust between Gerard [Joseph] and Sylvia [Kwan]; it’s been a pleasure to watch them grow together as scene partners.

I’m also a choreographer, and you’ll see how I use body language to tell the story. There are scenes where you can tell how the couple functions in real time, and then when things slow down and speed up (with time jumps).

When I first read it, I thought about how we’re going to reflect the seasonal changes. A lot of people thought projections, but I said ‘no’ to that for this production. It’s important to see the seasons change in a tangible way. I made the choice to stick with what is organic and natural as we’re seeing a real relationship in an imaginary future circumstance, but the relationship should feel real, so I want everything on stage to echo that.

Given who I am as a director, I’m interested in dark comedy as it’s my favorite form to direct — to have your heart drop one moment and be laughing out loud the next [laughs]. I want my audiences to be vocal and audibly react to my work. You will feel the depth and the buoyancy in this production. I need the levity, playfulness, and hope; that’s just where I’m at in 2024. It’s incredibly personal to me as I’ve been able to investigate relationships on a personal level in spending time with this couple.

Did you find it challenging to balance the dark comedy and sci-fi tones with your actors without veering too far in one direction or the other?

Prudencio: I will credit the actors to be able to do both in that their impulses are so authentic and that’s what makes things funny when it’s played so seriously; that’s how we get it with Gerard and Sylvia as they’re truthful in the moment. Because they give 100 percent, we can get really emotional and silly in the show [laughs]. It’s not an easy thing to do both, and it takes a specific kind of actor to understand the tone, and these two understand Lisa’s tone and are open to the physical and sensual approach to staging this play.

East West Players is quite a big theatre for a romantic play, but with our full design and these actors, we fill the space and moments with explosive energy and great intimacy. It’s very cinematic.

Jesca Prudencio is the director of East West Players’ Kairos, which runs between April 4th through the 28th in Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of Jesca Prudencio

Kairos is certainly very topical with Artificial Intelligence moving at a blistering rate, outpacing the time it takes for people to adapt to it. Ultimately, do you think A.I. will serve humanity and relationships well, destroy it, or is the answer somewhere in between?

Prudencio: I have a lot of hope for humanity; I’m a pretty positive person and hope is the only thing I have to keep me going when it comes to the future. So, my hope is that as scary as it is, it will be a bit of both — it will be useful for so many, and better us, but also hurt. Everything is a paradox, but I like to put my energy in the positive.

This is why I’ve stayed in theatre as tech evolves. I crave human beings in real time feeling things in front of a live audience; that is something I don’t think will die. Theatre keeps me present, alive, and hopeful. The more we do great theatre, the more people will crave an authentic human connection in real time.

Finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from experiencing Kairos, both in terms of entertainment and a deeper reflection on the themes presented?

Prudencio: I hope our audiences will leave this production open to being more honest in their relationships. Lisa has written about a couple that is so dynamic in their communication in the various stages of their relationship; it’s both inspiring and heartbreaking as they reveal their truths. I hope it inspires audiences to live their truth.

This is also a play that presents the possibility of being young forever, and I hope our audiences leave seeing the beauty of aging, especially in light of the anti-aging movement. I believe aging is a beautiful thing; that’s what makes me enjoy the everyday, knowing it won’t last. I’m very content with my life, my timing, and whatever ends up being. As for the audience, I think they will — more than anything — have a dynamic conversation about what it really means to live. If they had the chance to live forever, would they and why? They will be talking about what mortality is and the meaning of life.

East West Players’ production of Kairos runs from Thursday, April 4th through Sunday, April 28th. For further details and tickets to the play, visit eastwestplayers.org.

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