In Eduardo Ivan Lopez’s play “Natural Life” a woman sits on death row for killing her husband, having led a life filled with abuse from a young age. Lopez, along with director Jake Turner, discuss the real case on which the play is based, and how Lopez came to the story through the journalist who covered it.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
THE CHARACTERSJake Turner: The reporter first hooks into this story almost as a mercenary, as just a reporter getting a good scoop and saving her career — and it’s held against her, she’s an aging reporter in a world of youth coming up in the media.
So she just walks into this story as someone who is going to use her professional ethics but as a mercenary to get a good scoop. But she’s drawn to this woman because her story is so fascinating and in a way it’s frightening. And I don’t think that you can listen to this story without feeling that this, where she ended up in committing the crime of murdering her husband, is she guilty? The play doesn’t tell you whether or not she is, it just asks you the question: where do you stand? So in a way, [the prisoner] is re-tried in front of you. And that’s why the cast sits back there [on stage] the entire time almost as a jury, and faces you, the audience, who are also a jury.
THE SCRIPTEduardo Ivan Lopez: I met [journalist] Carol Marin at a journalistic award ceremony in Pittsburgh. We sat down to eat dinner afterwards and she told me the story and I liked the story and I wanted to learn more about it. So I asked her to contact the prisoner. And she said she wouldn’t speak to me because she only spoke to [Marin]. And I said, ‘well try to reach out again.’ So she did and two weeks later I got a call from the woman. And she wanted to meet me first before she’d give me the story. She said, ‘okay well I’ll want you to come up here and meet me and after I see you I can tell you. I have a sense about people. I can see whether I can trust you or not.’ So I went there. And we spent a couple hours together. And she gave me the story after that meeting. And we had conversations over the phone. We had conversations over four years. And I accumulated all the knowledge and did all the research on it and I got all the transcripts, articles that were published, and brushed up on it, and when I thought I was ready for it I sat down and wrote it. It took me about four months to write it.
THE SETJake Turner: We hear every day about the justice system being askew, and people being wrongly convicted, spending 40 years in jail. The whole concept was society, the justice system, and there are scenes with the governor, is all off-kilter. There’s something off about it, and the injustice that happens as a result of that. So we have a very expressionistic, angular, askew set.