Once again Marina & Nicco have answered my call! Their haunting comedy Unpacking: A Ghost Story Told In The Dark is returning to the stage, but this time, the run is at HERE. In an unconventional staging, the audience lends a hand by lighting the stage for a couple that is literally, and figuratively, feeling their way through the dark. Flashlights will be provided.
In Unpacking, a happy couple has just moved into their new home. But the novelty of homeownership quickly fades as they face a sea of boxes, a major blackout, and, shortly thereafter, the ghosts of all their past relationships. The newest play combines two of our biggest fears: the dark and commitment.
This production will feature Temesgen Tocruray as "Anthony," SJ Son as "Melissa," Emily Mathwich as "Serena," Jeff Solomon as "James," Monique Moses as "Lona," Odera Adimorah as "Lou," and Sarah Heveron-Smith as "Catherine."
Unpacking: A Ghost Story Told In The Dark is written & directed by Nicco Aeed, Written & Produced by Marina Tempelsman, Produced by Michelle Francesca Thomas, with Set Design by Ally Spier, & Lighting Design by Kaitlyn Cecchetti.
Unpacking: A Ghost Story Told In The Dark will play July 26-August 13 at HERE (145 6th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
Marina Tempelsman: We were particularly excited for it to go up this summer, since the Fringe is on hiatus. Our play (and the rest of HERE’s SubletSeries and other curated rental programs like it) are testaments to how independent theater will always find a way to thrive.
Nicco Aeed: I bet our ghosts would be upset if we only thought of them during Halloween when I feel like they’re putting in hard work haunting us year round. I bet something is haunting you in July, and if something is haunting you, it’s the right time to see this play.
I’m also pushing 30, and I feel like everyone’s coupling up and having babies, creating new lives and moving away from old ones. I guess maybe it’s a feeling that will be around during Halloween, but who knows if America will be around then, so why wait?
2. What did you learn from the previous run at The People's Improv that will make this run better?
Marina Tempelsman: Well, one major thing we learned is that the flashlights get dimmer as the battery power fades. The second show in our first run was probably a littttttle darker than we intended. But it still looked great!
Nicco Aeed: Yeah there were a lot of flashlight and lighting based discoveries, but I think the thing I learned that stuck with me most is that it’s a blast to watch couples watch this play. Couples definitely move closer together and further away from each other depending on the scene. There’s something voyeuristic about watching the play on the stage, but also it’s fun to be a voyeur of the audience as well.
Marina Tempelsman: It’s funny to see the different types of flashlight holders that emerge. You get the voyeurs, who really hone in on the action of the stage, and the sleuths, who are hellbent on making sure nothing’s going to surprise them in some dark corner.
Nicco Aeed: The audience seems to mostly act like a collective group of fireflies following cast members as move off and on stage.
4. Unpacking: A Ghost Story Told in the Dark is part mystery, part romance, and part comedy. You have been working together since 2006, both in performance & writing. What part of your relationship is a mystery? What part is romantic? What part is comedic?
Marina Tempelsman: Someone recently said "You’ve been working together for 11 years? You must know EVERYTHING about each other." But I think in a good writing partnership you’re always surprising each other with new ideas and experiences, even as your minds meld in some respects.
Ours is a deep friendship and a writing partnership -- we’re not dating and never have. It’s not a romantic relationship, except in that creating worlds together and being a part of each other’s creative process is an intimate thing to do. Seeing early drafts of each other’s work is, I guess, the collaborator equivalent of seeing a significant other put in their retainer before going to bed. (Nicco thinks this is very funny and true).
Nicco Aeed: Yeah none of our relationship is romantic. People sometimes seem surprised by that or wish there was a juicier story but we disappoint them. That being said yeah, knowing someone for 11 years does NOT mean that new mysteries aren’t revealed all the time. I heard that all the cells in your body die and are replaced within seven years, so on like a cellular level I have known like at least two completely different Marina’s and she’s seen a couple different me’s. The funnest part of the mystery is seeing who we’ll be and what we’ll create in the future. (Marina loves this answer).
5. This show is about a couple, who shortly after moving in together, begin to see the ghosts of their past relationships in every moving box and unpainted corner. When you and Nicco write together, what ghosts do you see in each other?
Marina Tempelsman: This is a really interesting question. I think that we see ghosts in any long-standing relationship, romantic or not. Nicco and I have never dated, but we’ve written together for almost eleven years. There are times where I feel like I can feel snapshots of past-us in our meetings, though (unlike the characters in the play) I tend to react to those feelings more with a sense of security in how our writing and our process has evolved. Take any life stage, add a pinch of time and nostalgia or uncertainty, and boom! There are the ghosts.
Nicco Aeed: Yeah we wanna emphasize this is NOT a romantic relationship. It’s more like what "Marley" and "Scrooge" had in A Christmas Carol. I’d probably see Marina’s ghost before I saw the ghost of The One That Got Away, or a haunting vision of my children in the future.
But what would be our ghosts? Once in college, we did a show in Philly where there were more people on stage than in the audience, and there were like four people on stage. That’s always a little haunting. But mostly I don’t feel like I see ghosts in our relationship, because that would’ve meant something in our relationship died or ended or just went away but our relationship is immortal and undying.
6. The play is about the pieces of ourselves that we just can't (or don't want to) let go of. What pieces of yourselves can't you or don't you want to let go of?
Marina Tempelsman: This is a tough question to answer! I feel like part of growing up is just feeling safe and secure in letting go of the traits and things in your life that no longer serve you. I feel lucky that I have people around me who tend to nurture the good parts of me, and make the "letting go" process much less painful. But I’m a very nostalgic person in general, so even when I know I’m evolving past something in a good or productive way I tend to get emotional about it.
Nicco Aeed: Such personal questions, Adam! I feel like spaces are haunted for me, and that no matter if I feel like I’ve left something behind for good, if I go back to a certain place (the apartment I was a kid in and grew up in, or visit my old high school) as soon as I step through the threshold I’m brought back to the person I was when I spent time in that place.
Marina Tempelsman: When I stayed in an AirBnB that had no lamps and the lightswitch was all the way on the other side of the room opposite the bed.
But also, I think feeling your way through the dark is a pretty apt way of describing trying to pursue a life in the arts. It can be very hard to orient yourself and know when you’re making forward progress, when there’s no clearly-defined context for what a career track can or should look like.
Nicco Aeed: Good answer Marina. Yeah career is definitely a place where I’m feeling my way through the dark.
8. What is one ghost that you still have yet to unpack?
Marina Tempelsman: I think that we’re constantly making new ghosts for ourselves as we live life, make decisions, and live with the memories or the what-ifs. And I should also say not all ghosts feel bad to see -- sometimes it’s comforting to be visited by what once was or what could have been. There’s a beautiful passage in Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay-Abaire, where a character talks about how the feeling of grief evolves.
She says "At some point it becomes bearable. It turns into something you can crawl out from under, and carry around — like a brick in your pocket. And you forget it every once in a while, but then you reach in for whatever reason and there it is: 'Oh, right. That.' Which can be awful. But not all the time. Sometimes it’s kinda...not that you like it exactly, but it’s what you have instead of your son, so you don’t wanna let go of it either. So you carry it around. And it doesn’t go away, which is…fine, actually."
Of course not all ghosts are driven by grief, but I do feel that they generally come from some sort of friction with your current reality. And sometimes bringing traces of the past or what could have been into your reality is comforting.
Nicco Aeed: I think parents (living or dead) are ghosts you have to unpack for the whole of your life. What I admire in my parents and what I see of them in me changes at every age I'm in. As you realize how many people you become as you live and grow older, it makes you realize how much of your parents you didn’t know throughout your life.
Oh yeah, maybe it’s worth talking about happy ghosts. I think anytime you experience something beautiful, something really beautiful, that you know a picture won’t do justice, that when described to friends they won’t really appreciate how awesome that moment was, those things are haunting. That beauty is passing and short and something that you have to work to keep with you in your memories.
Marina Tempelsman: I just had chunks of plaster drop straight out of my ceiling a few months ago, and I FINALLY got that repainted this weekend. So that’s the only unpainted corner I have on the brain and it is officially taken care of.
Nicco Aeed: I feel like I’ve lived in a couple apartments where the bathroom ceiling has fallen in a couple times. Though it does get plastered back up there, it never gets painted. Oh but you mean metaphorically?
10. If you had to choose five "Ghost" themed songs, movies, or TV shows to describe this show, which ones would you use?
Marina Tempelsman: Oh, interesting question! So there is quite a bit of music in the show, but I’ll try to exclude those songs from this answer. I would say…
It’s not exaaaactly a ghost TV show, but I do feel like The Good Place seems related, both tonally and thematically. It’s funny and poignant, but it’s also about characters trying to overcome their circumstances by sheer force of will -- and eventually coming around to acknowledging that it takes something more profound to bring about the change they need.
And WOW I’m drawing a blank, now! I guess ghost movies tend to be scary (unlike this show, which is largely a comedy and drama), and I hate scary movies. So I don’t see a lot. Nicco, what do you think?
Nicco Aeed: Below is a weird youtube mixtape just for you Adam! It’s a bit ecclectic but all about the past:
Chris Pureka Covering Haunted
Relevant Lyrics: We are all alive but you would never know
We walk side by side like invisible ghosts
Everyone is lonely and everyone is sad
We all want the things that we have never had
I got somethin' to say but no one's here
We march on and on and we damn the fear
But we are haunted
Office Musik (Lil Wayne Hustler Music/The Office Themesong mashup)
Relevant Lyrics: See I be riding, just riding alone
With my daddy on my mind
Like you gotta be kidding
How the hell you ain't here
To see your prince do his thing
Sometimes I wanna drop a tear
But no emotions from a king
Juke Jam by Chance the Rapper
Relevant Lyrics: We never rolled at the rink
We would just go to the rink
You ain't buy tokens no more
You just hip roll at the rink
You had a man then, I couldn't stand him
But when they play "Take You Down", Chris Brown,
I am his stand-in
I mean it's just dancing
It's harmless as fuck
Then I put my waist through your hips and your legs in my arms just to harness you up
Then we hit the floor
All the kiddies stopped skating
To see grown folks do
What grown folks do
When they grown
And they dating
Space Captain by Joe Cocker
Relevant Lyrics: Until we die, until we die
We are just learning to live together
Learning to live together
Learning to live together
Till we die
New Lover by Josh Ritter
Relevant Lyrics: Praise the water under bridges, the time they say will heal
Praise the fonder, that still grows on the absent heart and fields
Praise be to this pain, these days it's all I seem to feel.
But I will not chase your shadow as you go from room to room,
Droppin' handkerchiefs and daggers, smokin' guns and other clues
For what someone did with someone and who did what to whom.
I've got a new lover now, I hope you've got a lover too.
Marina and Nicco are playwrights and screenwriters based in New York, who emerged from the underground sketch comedy scene. Their most recent play, Room 4, was met with sold-out shows, standing ovations, and was listed as a New York Times Critic’s Pick in addition to receiving international coverage. Prior to Room 4, that they were playwrights-in-residence at The Peoples Improv Theater, and Marina Tempelsman’s play Simon’s Street ran at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre for eight months.
In addition to their theatrical work, their sketches and videos have been featured in The New Yorker's Shorts and Murmurs, on Comedy Central, and Funny or Die. They wrote for Morgan Spurlock’s Call Bullshit, and were finalists in the LA Film Festival Make Em LAFF competition -- in addition to their regular live shows at major comedy theaters in New York. They co-wrote the feature film Delusions of Guinevere, which was called "a surprisingly dark satire of modern celebrity" by The Village Voice and "sly and smart" by The New York Times. They have also written several pilots, a radio play series (MURDER!), and a number of original plays. They just finished a six-month playwriting residency at The PIT, and are currently developing an original web series for BRIC TV.