If you’re at all familiar with Bellingham’s theater scene, there’s a good chance you know who Ben Eisner is—and not just because he’s tall and difficult to miss in a crowd.
In addition to his improvisational and acting skills, which can be seen at various times throughout the year at venues such as the Upfront and iDiOM theaters, Eisner has expanded his theatrical talents in recent years to include that of playwright.
And, although much of his earlier work was focused on short plays he wrote for the iDiOM’s 48 Hour Theater Festivals and Serial Killers competitions, he’s recently written and helped debut a full-length play, The Raft, for Carolyn McCarthy’s Little Bird Theater—a pop-up venue currently making its home at the old Stamp & Coin Estate Division on Cornwall Avenue.
When asked what some of the challenges were in writing a longer play, Eisner says he had to be sure and keep a handle on details such as pacing and continuity.
“It’s actually freeing in that you have time to develop most of the things you want, but it becomes a challenge to maintain focus and not try to pack every idea into the same play,” Eisner says. “The overall structure is much more complex as well, both thematically and technically.”
Although The Raft started out as a 10-minute play that a friend posited would work well as a longer piece, Eisner says he wasn’t sure he had it in him to write a full-length story focusing on two friends who are stranded at sea in an inflatable floating device. Turns out he was wrong, because the subject matter kept expanding.
“They are not great at surviving, but they are good at making up movies, so that’s what they do to pass the time,” Eisner says of furthering the action of his main characters. “The play follows their story, and also the story of the movie that they tell each other to stave off the desperation.”
Because there are only two actors in the production—Galen Emanuele and Eliot Glasser—believable dialogue was of utmost importance when it came to getting the story told. Rumor has it, Eisner’s script nailed it.
“I listen to people, and I try to hear dialogue in my head as I write it,” he says of his storytelling skills. “I often try saying a line out loud while I’m writing—because what seems good written can sound terrible spoken. Also, playwrights like David Mamet, Edward Albee, and Peter Frayn opened my eyes to writing realistic dialogue, where people repeat themselves, stutter and cut each other off.”
Eisner says he’s pleased with the way McCarthy directed the play, and says once she took over—after working with him at length to get the script into its final form—he made it a point to let her complete her vision on her own.
Opening night has come and gone, but audiences still have two weekends to see The Raft. And, although Eisner may be partial when it comes to the play, he still thinks it’s one worth seeing.
“It’s a story about being adrift in life, and what’s important about human relationships and telling stories,” he says. “It’s not like any other play I know of. It has two amazing actors and a great director. Also, it’s funny.”
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