2011-2012 Season, Boom Artists, First Flight, Indie Theatre Community

Three Questions for Kelly McAllister

Kelly McAllister is the playwright of RIDDLE LOST, which gets a featured reading in the FIRST FLIGHT New Play Festival on November 19th.

1) What was your inspiration for writing Riddle Lost?

Inspiration is a funny thing.  In some ways, I’ve always wanted to write this play, as it is a mix of several things I’ve always been fascinated by:  Norse Mythology, American history, Native Americans, and Death.  Specifically, around 6 or 7 years ago, I came across the story of the great Modoc chief Kintpuash, called Captain Jack by settlers and most history books, and the war he fought in the early 1870’s.  His is a story Shakespearean in scope- it involves courage, family, and betrayal.  It’s really a story of how one man sticks to his ethics when everyone else, on all sides, doesn’t.  It’s tragic and epic and the moment I read about it, I knew I wanted to write a play about it.  The question was, how?  For years, I put it on the back burner of my mind, letting it percolate along with all those other stories waiting to be penned.  Then I came across another person from the story, a man named Jefferson Riddle, who was half Modoc and half white, and lived through the Modoc war when he was about ten.  At the time, he had a Modoc name, Charka.  But after the war (spoiler alert, the Americans won) his parents changed his name to Jeff Riddle.  That fascinated me- this guy is a true Riddle, and a mix of both sides of the story.  Not only that, but he grew up and wrote a book about the war.  He had to have some mixed emotions, growing up when his world was a giant battle field, and everyone he knew, his ancestry, was killing each other off.  And he died right when America was getting into World War II.  And the more I read about Captain Jack, Riddle, and the Modoc War, the more enthralled I became.

2) The play is a blend of Mythology and American History, which seems like new territory for you. What led you to this style?

About 2 years ago, I wrote a short play called Hela and Troy, which involved the Norse Goddess of Death going speed dating.  It was really fun, did well, and is now published by Playscripts, Inc.   I’ve always put a little bit of magic realism in my plays- ghosts, gods, magic senses of smell, etc.  But that was the first time I put Death herself onstage- and I really liked it.  And I had this image in my head of Jeff Riddle talking to Death about his life- and the play began.  Very early on, the Native American trickster god Raven showed up in the story, which to me made sense, as Riddle is the product of two cultures, European and Native American, so of course there are gods from both worlds in his afterlife.  So, in some ways it’s new territory, but in others, it’s what I’ve always written about- namely, messed up people trying to fix themselves and not doing so well, with lots of comedy, pop culture, and magic thrown in the mix.

3) When do you like to write? Early morning or late at night? And what do you always have to have with you when you are working?

I like to write in the morning a lot- I mean right when I wake up, while the coffee is still brewing and before I walk my dog.  But once a project has started in earnest, I pretty much am writing at all times- late at night, middle of the day- it’s kind of obnoxious, really.  And I usually like to have music playing- although once I get going, I don’t really hear it.

The reading of RIDDLE LOST takes place on Saturday November 19th at 5pm at ART/NY, 520 Eighth Avenue, 3rd floor. For reservations, please email literary@boomerangtheatre.org

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1 thought on “Three Questions for Kelly McAllister”

  1. I saw this play in Salinas and I enjoyed the reading very much. I found that some pronounciation corrections could help. It is a very Riddle family perspective( my counsins too) it tells the story of the Modoc War very well to any outsider. To those of us who have intimate family memories evoked by this play I can only say thank you.

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