Skylight Theatre Company opens a dialogue on the
Perilous State for Freedom of Thought…
By Rose Desena
Starting the line up of entertainment this season from Skylight Theatre Company, LA’s “Intimate Theatre” with the most 2014 Ovation awards, the World Premiere production of Disconnection by Allen Barton opens on January 24th at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Noted for nurturing today’s new and important voices in playwriting, the company takes on risky and controversial issues that impact our communities.
Vital to today’s headlines about groups and religions imposing their beliefs onto others, Disconnection explores parameters of freedom of speech and thought. This entertaining new work indicts what the playwright calls “totalitarian, highly-restrictive modes of thought.” No, not just governments, but he is referring to current religious groups as well.
Joel Polis helms the production with an admirable cast that includes Luke Cook, Bo Foxworth, Rob Hughes, Jay Huguley, Dennis Nollette, Eric Pierpoint, Carter Scott, and Everette Wallin. These award-winning actors may be very familiar to audiences (TV: Castle, Criminal Minds, Deadwood, The Newsroom), from local stage work as well as their film and television credits.
Playwright, Allen Barton is a Los Angeles-based writer-director, and classical pianist. His play last season, Years To The Day, attained international critical acclaim after an extended run at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. His first feature screenplay, “Real Music” was a top-three finalist in the CAPE New Writers Award Competition. Allen performed Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” at the 25th Annual S.T.A.G.E. fundraiser (Wilshire Theatre), was a prizewinner in the Los Angeles Liszt Society Competition, and has recorded five CD’s. In 2010 he was made a Steinway Artist. “Triple threat” Allen Barton gave me some time to delve a bit deeper into this controversial subject that he was inspired to write after his experience with Scientolody. It’s an intriguing piece of work that is lining up to make
quite an impression in Los Angeles.
Rose: Why do you think that this is an important story to tell?
Allen: I think it’s important because freedom is important. As I write this answer, I’m watching the news about the shootings in Paris. Western Civilization is under attack – the basic principles of free speech, free association – these are under attack. Scientology has as one of its slogans, “Think for yourself,” but nothing could be further from the truth when you’re inside. So for me it’s about the notion of freedom. Throughout history these entities, often under the guise of ‘religion,’ come along and use fear and supposed moral authority to restrict freedom of speech and association, even within families. And whether it becomes violent or it’s under the surface, it is always an important story to tell. With Scientology, it’s not happening “over there.” It’s happening right now, here in Los Angeles.
Rose: How did you become involved with Scientology, and when did you decide that it wasn’t for you?
Allen: I became involved around 1994, mostly as an intellectual curiosity. My mentor at the BHP, Milton Katselas, was a Scientologist, as were many of his staff and some students. I had gotten to know all of them and was impressed. I thought, “What is this thing they all have in common?” I read a book. Then another. I was able, through Milton’s largesse, to do coursework at Celebrity Centre for free. They had a great piano in the lobby and I loved sitting for hours to play it. I was young and unmarried and this provided a sense of family while engaging a pursuit of knowledge. Around 2001, I bumped up against “Disconnection policy,” as it was starting to hit Milton and the BHP in various ways, and I was completely repulsed by it. I stepped away quietly at that time.
Rose: Would you describe your current relationship with religion?
Allen: Currently I have no relationship with religion. And I hadn’t had one before interacting with Scientology – my getting “in” (and I was nowhere near as in as many, which I say just to emphasize there are many many people who paid a far higher price than I did, financially and otherwise, for their involvement) had nothing to do with religion. I wasn’t feeling ‘lost’ in some way that Scientology provided an answer. I wasn’t recovering from a trauma, which is the point at which many religions or structured modes of thought gain their access point. My friends were in. My teacher was in. I was curious. It’s never been about ‘religion’ or a relationship with god or the infinite.
Rose: It’s been quite some time since you left the fold. Did you wait to write this play because you were concerned about the repercussions from exposing the truth about the church’s policies?
Allen: Good question. I didn’t speak out because Milton was still alive, and I didn’t want to make trouble for him, since I was the CEO of his company, and he wanted to maintain good relations with the church. And to a certain degree, yes, I was afraid of them and was fine with just slipping away and being ‘under the radar,’ which means you’re ‘out’ but you’re not really telling anyone that. Around 2008, I started reading the books and the blogs that were authored by former staff members (some of whom I knew personally), and my eyes popped out of my head at what they were describing. But the real impetus for the play occurred in 2013 when I was declared “suppressive” (for participating in Lawrence Wright’s book Going Clear), and they forced my piano teacher, who was a longtime Scientologist, to disconnect from me. As I have described before, a journey that began with curiosity and had rested at disdain, now arrived at its terminus at anger. And anger is a great place to start writing.
Rose: What enlightenment do you hope that audiences will get from seeing this production?
Allen: A large decision in developing the play was how “
Scientological” to make it. You can write a 20-hour play about Scientology, and spend a lot of it with awkward dialogue to describe their arcane nomenclature. And in the end it’s just a minor cult of little consequence in world affairs. So I wanted to create a world in which, while based on my Scientology experience, was universal to all these totalitarian, highly restrictive modes of thought. So I’m hoping to hit a trifecta: those with knowledge of Scientology will think I nailed it, those without any knowledge walk out still having understood every word, and finally – for both groups, that it’s a rip-roaring good story, that the audience will simply understand and care what happens to the characters and walk out having had an engaging couple hours in the theatre.
Playwright: Allen Barton
Directed by: Joel Polis
Produced by: Gary Grossman and Skylight Theatre Company
Presented at the BEVERLY HILLS PLAYHOUSE
254 South Robertson Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90211
When: previews January 16th – 18th, & 23rd
Opening: Friday, January 24, 2014 at 8pm
Schedule: 8:30pm Fridays, 8pm and Saturdays, and 7pm on Sundays
Closing: March 1, 2015
For reservations call: 213-761-7061 or online at http://skylighttix.com
How Much: $30 – $34