How many times have you heard someone say, “This neighborhood is just getting so expensive”? If you live in Bushwick then, yeah, probably a lot. It’s also a frequently repeated sentiment in Metro Cards, a new laugh-out-loud play by Bushwick resident Christopher Sullivan currently running in EST/Youngblood’s UNFILTERED Festival through tomorrow night. Sullivan’s play takes a close look at several characters’ Brooklyn-to-Manhattan work commutes over the years, and all the intimate moments that take place while riding public transportation. Oh, and it all takes place on the L train.
Sullivan walks us through the story of two characters, Harry and Martina, who meet on the L and fall in love – from the giddy moments of their relationship’s early days to the strain of trying to make a coupling work and lots of tense, uncomfortable conversations along the way. We witness Harry and Martina say “I love you” for the first time. We also see the two have very personal chats (my favorite was when Martina asks Harry point-blank, “Do you clean your butthole?”) and get in jealous fights about money whilst surrounded by strangers. But it’s not just about Martina and Harry; Sullivan also introduces a whole slew of other characters who are hilarious and sensitive and just trying to get by. Shout out to the hysterical slash amazing train conductor character who overshares via the subway intercom.
Bushwick Daily talked to Sullivan about his new play and living in Bushwick. Read the Q&A below.
What was your inspiration for Metro Cards?
I mostly wanted to write a play that all took place on the subway. It’s where we spend so much of our time, and so much, and so little happens on it. I was fascinated by the conversations you have with people you run into on the train, the sort of mundane, what are you up to, where are you working, type stuff. Are you excited to see this person? Are you stuck talking to them for the next 20 minutes?
I also wanted to write about relationships and all the different phases they go through. The initial blissed out feeling, the quiet Netflix nights, the bickering, the breakups. I thought it would be fun to write about meeting the person you see every day on your commute and never talk to, but have a secret crush on. What if you actually talked to them and what if it actually went really well? Then from there the play evolved into a sort of third person look at all these different types of relationships and the effect living in New York has on them.
Why the L train setting in particular?
A big focus, and sort of the backdrop of the play, is New York constantly changing, becoming less affordable and the conversations we’re always having about that. I think the L in particular is the train where you can see that happening the fastest. Just in the past few years each stop has changed so drastically and rents have skyrocketed. The play isn’t a political statement condemning or offering some sort of policy solution to that, but it looks as both native New Yorkers and transplants new and old, from different incomes and backgrounds, and how people move further and further out, paying more and more. My 85 year old grandmother who raised my mom in Queens saw the play and said it’s the same conversation they were having. It seems like it’s hit a really insane point lately that really dominates people’s lives, and doesn’t show any signs of stopping.
How did Metro Cards evolve?
The play started out about two years ago as a 20 minute one-act that was in a showcase at The Tank Theatre. Then I started expanding it into a full length, bringing it in to be workshopped at my writers group, Youngblood, a group for writers under 30 at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Last year we did a full reading, and after that it was chosen to be in Youngblood’s Unfiltered Festival, which puts full length plays up on their feet and in front of an audience for the first time. It’s been so amazing working with all these talented, dedicated people. This is my first full length play that’s been produced, and it’s totally surreal to have something that started out as just a thought evolve into this thing where about 30 different people are involved, and are so committed, and it becomes this massive beast that you’re all really proud of. I can’t say enough good things about the director, John Giampietro, and all the actors who’ve made a pretty tricky play come to life and found things in it I never thought of.
Is writing a full-time gig?
I’ve always split my time between writing/theater and music. When I was in high school I was playing Wilbur the pig in Charlotte’s Web and also screaming in a hardcore band. My life now isn’t too different, I split my time half at Youngblood and the theater world and half at DIY venues in Brooklyn with my band, The Doubts. I love being in two different artistic communities that are both really similar and really different and occasionally blending them. A lot of my friends in Bushwick and in the music scene don’t see a lot of theater. Seeing a play in New York often costs a ton of money, is usually in Manhattan, and half the audience is over 60. So someone who lives in Bushwick, who is used to paying $5 to see music just isn’t going to do that. Over the years I’ve produced shows with short plays from new writers along with bands under the name Pony Show Presents at DIY venues like Death By Audio and Silent Barn to expose people from both worlds to each others work. It’s always a ton of fun, and people are like, wow! Plays! Cool! Music! Fun!
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever heard a real MTA conductor say over the intercom?
I think the funniest, and also the scariest is when the conductor is REALLY STRESSED OUT and just starts screaming at everyone. That must be the hardest job, when the train is stalled and people are pissed, and there’s another train right behind you, and people are holding the doors open. I could never handle that. God bless them.
Anything else to add?
Just that there’s a show tonight at 7 pm, and tomorrow at 2 pm and 7 pm. Also a shameless plug for my next show. It’s a co-production between Pony Show and Glass Bandits Theatre Company called May Day Mayday. It’s a plays and bands show with Crazy Pills, Milk Dick, The Doubts, and new plays by myself, Paul Cameron Hardy, and Caitlin Bebb. April 30th at Cake Shop.
by Christopher Sullivan
Upcoming performances: 4/3 at 7pm and 4/4 at 2pm and 7pm
Ensemble Studio Theatre (549 W. 52nd Street, 2nd floor)
Tickets available here.