Bierstock Debuts at FST with "Honor Killing"

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY APR 6, 2018

“If you have the ability to give voice to someone who doesn’t, do you have a responsibility to do that? Or is it completely out of line, speaking on someone else’s behalf?”

Playwright Sarah Bierstock has wrestled with this very issue for years now, researching and rewriting her debut play, Honor Killing, which makes its world premiere tonight at Florida Studio Theatre. A drama about perspective, bias and a clash of cultures in the quest for justice, an honor killing in a Middle Eastern country sends a young journalist with the New York Times overseas, full of questions and expectations. But what she finds may challenge all of them. Directed by FST Producing Artistic Director Richard Hopkins, Honor Killing runs through May 25.

The impetus came with the morning paper, and Bierstock reading about an honor killing “that I had a really hard time letting go of.” Disturbed by the story in itself, Bierstock, also an avid traveler, tumbled down a philosophical rabbit-hole, grappling with her feelings not only about this story, but her own experiences as a woman in the world—and even her home, the United States. The feelings stayed. The questions multiplied. And one day Bierstock sat down and the whole skeleton of what would be a play came rushing out of her, “like a Dionysian dump of my thoughts over the last three years,” she says.

But while that came quickly, putting meat on those bones and turning an outline into something ready for production would take years. “I just wrote it because it poured out of me,” Bierstock says of the beginning, thinking now perhaps it a blessing to not know what she had begun. “If you knew how long it would take,” she laughs, “you probably wouldn’t do it.”

Stepping outside of both her cultural and professional spheres with her characters, the research needed was “tremendous,” according to Bierstock, which accounts for much the intervening years between draft and debut. “I was writing from my imagination,” she explains. “I knew I would need to authenticate.” Reaching out to several female Pakistani journalists, they offered their own insights into journalistic practices and cultural customs, guiding Bierstock around tropish pitfalls in the search for something authentic.

This proved to be a crucial step, as Bierstock, human as any other, found herself falling prey to exactly some of the assumptions and biases that she wanted to rise above. “I was horrified,” she says now, but taking her writing to task and listening to the input of others, she made the changes she could then see were necessary.

Today, after a series of table reads and workshops and rehearsals that saw Bierstock criss-crossing the country for years, going from the Athena Theater in Denver, CO, to the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City, back West to the Pioneer Theater in Salt Lake City, UT, and then returning to NYC and the Guild Hall for more readings, the play finally stands ready for its world premiere, and Bierstock couldn’t be happier.

“I feel ready—the play’s ready,” she says. “I’m so proud and happy, and I can’t wait to be sitting in the audience.”

Opening tonight at Florida Studio Theatre, Honor Killing runs through May 25.

Pictured: Rachel Moulton and Devon Ahmed star in Florida Studio Theatre's production of "Honor Killing." Photo by Matthew Holler.

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