Published in KPBS On Air Magazine September 1994
Naomi Iizuka was born in Japan but she “flowered in Holland.” That’s the way the playwright tells it, in her quiet voice and self-effacing style. She was 7 when she moved to Chevy Chase, Maryland, after a short stay in Indonesia. Her father, who worked for the World Bank, is native Japanese. Her mother, a Caucasian-American of Spanish descent, is an attorney. Her stepmother is an Argentinean travel agent. “There were a lot of strong women in my family,” says the soft-eyed, 29 year-old Iizuka. “it was a little daunting sometimes.”
Apparently undaunted, Iizuka forged her own path, making a brief, unsatisfying detour into law school at Yale, after completing the undergraduate program in Classics. As soon as she started writing, her plays won praise and have been read or produced in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Edinburgh, Scotland and of course, in her current home-town (she’s a graduate of the UCSD M.F.A. program in Playwriting, and a well-respected teacher of playwrights all around San Diego).
In 1993, the experimental Theatre E mounted a dynamic, highly-charged production of half of her epic “Carthage”; now they’re back with the whole thing (September 1-XX, at …). This will be the play’s first full mounting, although Robert Woodruff directed a reading last May at New York’s Public Theatre.
In Virgil’s poetic original, the wandering Trojan warrior Aeneas meets Dido, founder and queen of Carthage. She showers him with gifts, power and privilege and only asks for his love in return. But he leaves her suddenly, and as his ship sails away, while he watches, she throws herself on a flaming funeral pyre.
In Iizuka’s passionate, lyrical, non-linear “Carthage”, Dido is a modern-day, L.A. schizophrenic. The cast of characters includes a transsexual, a pair of Arab women, a chorus of whores, the skeletal remains of Karen Carpenter, the poet Virgil, Aeneas and his dead wife.
“I think a lot about landscape when I’m writing,” explains Iizuka. “The desert, the idea of a burning city, of cities falling apart, a love story gone all wrong, the idea of a woman cursing, burning on the shore. Something in the story really moved me… I’m not trying to say something in particular. I think writing is to some degree a mystery, and I think it should be. You don’t always know what you have when you start. If you do, go back and re-think it.”
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.