oug Reed doesn’t shy away from polarizing topics. Last year, his dove head-on into local politics with the highly successful The Lamentable Tragedie of Scott Walker.
This month, the playwright delves into both politics and religion in The Opiate of the Missus with Mercury Players Theatre. The show opens October 12 at the Bartell Theatre.
How did this play come about?
This is one that I wrote in 2008, as a one-act play [for the Actor’s Factory youth theater group in Stoughton]. I realized I was writing about religion and politics but I felt like I chickened out on the end. This year, Mercury was looking for something political because it’s so close to the election. They asked my wife Deanna if she’d be interested in directing something political, and she told them I had this one-act in my drawer.
Can you give a synopsis of the plot?
It takes place in the mid-1950s, with a McCarthy-ite running for reelection against Godless communism. But then God shows up in his kitchen and talks to his wife … She winds up climbing into the tree house in the backyard and won’t come down.
Why did you choose the 1950s as the setting?
In 2008, there was still a lot of “you’re with us or against us” talk. The historical parallels are too obvious to not want to shake people by their lapels. We did this once as a country and it didn’t work.
How have you changed the play?
What I really wanted to say is if you take the idea of an omnipotent God seriously, to say you speak for him is absurd. You can either take the idea of God seriously and realize you’re the ant on the anthill, or you don’t take him seriously and claim that you speak for the almighty.
What’s it like to work on another play after your success from last year, The Lamentable Tragedie of Scott Walker?
I kind of had to let go of it. Lamentable Tragedie was so immediate; the audience came in pre-fired up. I won’t have that with this play. It weighed on me when I first started working on it, but this isn’t that. I sort of have to do a Zen thing, make this the best Opiate of the Missus.
What do you hope audiences get from seeing this play?
I think this whole mixing your God and your politics is not a new thing. I’m hoping that a thoughtful conservative could come in and say, “Yes, I see your point. It’s a lot bigger than partisan politics.” It behooves us all to go sit in the tree house for a while, to do a little less shouting and a little more listening.
The Opiate of the Missus runs October 12–27 at the Bartell Theatre. For more information, visit mercuryplayerstheatre.com.
An excerpt of this Q&A ran in the October issue of Madison Magazine. Find additional October events .