Scranton playwright, Alicia Grega, to debut dark comedy at Scranton Fringe Festival
SCRANTON — Alicia Grega’s theatrical comedy fittingly started as a joke. She thought reading the absurd spam subject lines she saw at work to an audience would encite laughter. Five years later, that idea has flourished into an hour-long stage production about human insecurity and the struggles of a corporate workplace.
“Banger’s Elixer,” which is being called a dark cyber comedy, will premier at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2 at The Leonard Theater on Adams Avenue as part of the inaugural Scranton Fringe Festival. Two additional shows will be presented at 5 p.m. Oct. 3 and at 3 p.m. Oct. 4.
An events editor at Electric City, Grega was commissioned with sifting through the publication’s spam box in 2010 for pertinent emails that might be hiding amid the junk. What she found, instead, was inspiration.
“In the process of reading spam all the time, I started to see patterns and how funny it was,” Grega said. She explained the play started as a performance art piece where she stood and read from a list of subject lines but it evolved into something else entirely.
“Later on, I said, ‘Where does this stuff come from? Who writes these things?’ and that’s when I started to create characters,” Grega said.
Those characters, conceived as copywriters of the spam emails, motivated Grega to develop a 10-minute version of the play that shows people talking about their jobs and lives while trying to produce “click bait.”
“A lot of what you see in spam are the things that are frustrating us about our lives, the problems that we have or the things that we wish would be different,” Grega said. “It tells you a lot about the things that people don’t talk about, the fears that we have or the things that we might click if nobody’s looking over our shoulder.”
Grega said she thought it would be interesting to make the play a humorous examination of those fears and human motivation. The title, “Banger’s Elixir,” comes directly from a spam subject line promoting a remedy for erectile dysfunction.
According to Grega, a 20-minute version was born of trying to figure out more about who her characters are.
“I wanted to have a single mom, because being a working single mom myself, I know a lot about how difficult that is in the workplace,” Grega said.
She also developed a character who is the jerk in the play and said that, rather than give him a reason for being a jerk, she wrote him as just honest, without a backstory to support his unlikable personality, which she intended to be charming but offensive.
“I like the idea of playing with our expectations of people, going beyond the stereotype because people are more complicated than that,” Grega said.
The Drew University graduate, who majored in theater and focused on directing and playwriting, explained when she adapted the play into an hour-long version for Fringe, she was able to write monologues for each character.
Her character, Brittany, generates all the sex spam and is attractive and has a monologue entitled, “On Being Pretty,” where she laments her good looks but also admits she wouldn’t want to experience the opposite extreme.
Grega said she began doing research for the latest version and reading the book “Spam Nation” inspired her to add a cyber crime character to the second act where she explores a workplace in a constant state of flux.
“The next time they come back into work, everthing’s different,” Grega said. “There’s a new boss. One of the people they’ve worked with isn’t there anymore. There’s another girl in her place, and she’s a Russian hacker, and they have to learn a whole new way of working than they did in the first half of the play.”
Grega calls the play R-rated and said Fringe is the best environment to premier a risque production, but having an earlier version of the play rejected by a local playhouse isn’t the only reason she’s held onto it for so long.
The playwright explained an earlier version was picked up by a playhouse in another state, but producing it out of the area would not have made her feel accomplished. The acting guild, Drama Sutra is part of the Scranton Superstruction company.
The production features The University of Scranton theater alumni Laura McGown, Eric Lutz and Camille Reinecke as well as Scranton resident Mike Baranowski and Swoyersville resident Scott Colin. Director Mark Zdancewicz is a playwright and screenwriter who formerly directed the Wilkes-Barre Artistic Theater Ensemble.
“I like being involved in the process and seeing the community respond to it, and working with people in my community on projects is important to me,” Grega said.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go:
What: Production of “Banger’s Elixer” at inaugural Scranton Fringe Festival.
Where: Leonard Theater, Adams Avenue, Scranton
When: 6 p.m., Friday, Oct. 2; 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3; and 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4
Ticket information: Admission is $10 or $7 with a Fringe Festival button. Buttons are available at Lackawanna County Gerrities supermarkets and other Scranton businesses. Follow the production at twitter@dramastruction.