Playwright Lawrence Aronovitch drives The Lavender Railroad
by DREW ROWSOME -
"In the world the play is set in, the government seems to be very oppressive," says playwright Lawrence Aronovitch of The Lavender Railroad. "The nature of the oppression is a bit vague except for the apparent law that if you are a gay or lesbian, you are going to be killed." Aronovitch laughs ruefully, "The history of the last few months have made this an extremely relevant play to present, to be seen, to be talked about as widely as possible, so that what is a cautionary tale remains a cautionary tale."
Echoing The Rainbow Railroad, who are now frantically trying to get gay men out of Chechnya, The Lavender Railroad posits two parallel tales of a world that Aronovitch imagined but is now too real. "Here in our world there are too many societies where gay and lesbian oppression is in fact the case," he says. "We've seen the news coverage of people being thrown off the tops of buildings, people being hanged, people being shot, as well as other societies where it may not be a capital crime to be gay or lesbian or any other sexual minority, but you can see there are trends in that direction. So in that sense The Lavender Railroad is a cautionary tale: let us beware and not go down that road if at all possible."
Though Aronovitch is a much produced playwright, he took a detour first. "I was always interested in theatre," he says. "I grew up in Montreal and my parents were avid theatregoers who would drag me along from a very young age and it certainly made an impression on me. I dabbled in productions when I was going to university, but my studies led me into the space program, and into science, physics and technology. And then about 10 years ago I got asked to write a play and I accepted the challenge and have been working in this domain ever since. It was a logical straightforward transition. That first play was Galatea for a queer company Toto Too. It was a sort of gay sort of version of Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. It did reasonably well and was well received and I thought, 'This is sort of fun.'"
His science background doesn't factor into The Lavender Railroad any more than in his comedic work. "It's not science fiction so much as it is a look at a dystopian future," he says. "There's not a technology component to it, because it's not about technology, it's about relationships. It's about the people who populate that world. It's a bleak world where, for whatever reason, these people find themselves in terrible situations. And that's what drives the drama of the story."
It is the moral dilemmas that intrigue Aronovitch. "If you're in a dark world, especially a world where your life is at risk, how do you survive?," he asks. "Who do you trust? And is the person who said they are going to try to help you, telling the truth or not? A feature of bleak worlds in our own history, let alone the one I or others have tried to create, who do you trust has always been a central question. If you look at the darkest days of Stalinist Russia or the cultural revolution in China or surviving after the revolution in Iran . . . There are countless examples from around the world. And if you're going to survive you have to trust someone. How do you establish that? And what happens if that trust is misplaced."