'Triangle': Disaster play kids can understand - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

'Triangle': Disaster play kids can understand

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Posted: Friday, March 28, 2008 4:49 am | Updated: 11:54 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Sex. Violence. Alcoholism. Deception.

One doesn't automatically associate such heady topics with children's theater.

But playwright Laurie Brooks does.

Brooks, who recently moved from New York to Ahwatukee Foothills for a yearlong playwriting residency at Arizona State University, has earned international attention and acclaim for tackling taboos onstage for young audiences - whether it's her 2000 sexual identity drama "The Wrestling Season" or last year's racial study, "Brave No World."

"I have a lot to say to young people, and that's why I write to them," she says. "I feel like they're sort of devalued in this society."

On the surface, her latest effort, the historical drama "Triangle," wouldn't seem to fit the mold. Commissioned by ASU and opening this weekend at the Tempe campus' Lyceum Theatre, the play examines the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 - a blaze that killed 148 New York City garment workers, most female, and resulted in what's considered the worst workplace disaster before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Brooks manages to find particular comparisons between both tragedies.

"Thousands of people witnessed this fire," she says. "Many of the girls leaped from the windows. I don't have to tell you what this reminds us of."

Not that this is simply her 9/11 play. Rather, "Triangle" ends up being an exploration of immigration, that sticky subject, interweaving the story of two immigrant teenage sisters from the early 1900s with that of a pair of quarreling modern siblings, Marlena and Isabel, who happen to be illegal immigrants from Mexico.

"We felt, rather than taking (the immigration issue) head-on," Brooks says, "it would come through the back door."

Brooks is hesitant to reveal too much about "Triangle's" plot, for fear of ruining it for audiences. But she will say that it "tells a larger story through a personal story." Marlena is visited by the spirit of one of the Triangle sisters, who tells her a harrowing tale - and what Marlena learns affects, at the end of the play, her relationship with Isabel. A cast of eight ASU students plays other factory workers - what Brooks laughingly calls her "chorus of dead girls."

"It's kind of a ghost story, in a way," she says.

The 50-something Brooks looked to her three daughters, all now in their 20s, for inspiration on sisterly dynamics.

"I think there's always a love/hate between sisters, and clearly competition and jealousy and fighting for parents' approval and love can be important," she says. "Sisters can hurt each other deeply and love each other deeply."

Like previous plays, "Triangle" ends with an audience talkback session - a staple of modern theater - though Brooks' talkbacks are uncommon in that the actors stay in character when they answer questions.

The end result, the playwright says, is a show that should appeal to children age 8 and up, and adults of all ages.

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