Theatre Exile Presents the Erotic Thriller "Smoke" by Kim Davies

Tue, 02/23/2016

Philadelphia Weekly Interviews Deborah Block

Jaqueline Rupp of Philadelphia Weekly talks with Smoke director Deborah Block about the world of Kim Davies' play

You can read the full interview below or the original interview here. Original interview by Jaqueline Rupp for Philadelphia Weekly


Things get sexy at Theatre Ex­ile this month with the Phil­adelphia premiere of the erot­ic thrill­er, Smoke by Kim Dav­ies. After meet­ing by chance at a BDSM party (not ex­actly RomCo here), John and Ju­lie match wits, kinks and com­mingle per­son­al bound­ar­ies in a play that tests not only the act­or’s lim­its, but those of the audi­ence per­haps as well. We vis­ited the set in between shows to talk with Smoke Dir­ect­or and Ex­ile Pro­du­cing Artist­ic Dir­ect­or, De­borah Block.

Tell us about Smoke and what makes it an “erot­ic thrill­er,” that’s what caught all of our at­ten­tion.
It is erot­ic, be­cause it’s deal­ing with sexu­al polit­ics and two people who really are just meet­ing, nav­ig­at­ing their at­trac­tion to each oth­er and nav­ig­at­ing something that they want from each oth­er. It’s sexu­al in nature but it’s also about power and de­sire and that’s where the erot­i­cism comes from. It is set in­side a BDSM party, takes place in the kit­chen and the party’s hap­pen­ing right out­side. That party in­filt­rates, the fact that they are at this kink party, it sort of sets the rules. It al­lows for, it’s not as though people haven’t ever hooked up when they first meet, but when you come to this party, that is say­ing “that is more okay.” There’s no judge­ment on that. And so cer­tain fil­ters we may have, those rules have gone away, and then the rules of the BDSM world have come in­to play: “I won’t do any­thing un­less you say ‘yes.’ “Tell me what you want.” There’s ac­tu­ally a lot of rules in the BDSM com­munity.

That’s an in­ter­est­ing con­trast.
Yeah in fact it’s very much about ‘I need you to say ex­actly what you want.’ ‘I need you to tell me it’s okay to do this, but not that’ And so that world has a lot of rules but truth-be-told, when we’re nav­ig­at­ing a first date, second date, we don’t al­ways talk about con­sent in the same way, so as we nav­ig­ate sexu­al polit­ics and con­sent, it’s ac­tu­ally mur­ki­er in our reg­u­lar lives than it is in the rules of the BDSM world.

And it’s funny be­cause my ini­tial thought when hear­ing the “kink party” set­ting, was more wild, less re­stric­tions than in our typ­ic­al life, but placed in that con­text…
There’s more re­stric­tions in terms of, com­mu­nic­a­tion is key, and that’s the rules.

And that can be scary, right? Hav­ing to ar­tic­u­late your de­sires to someone else?
That’s es­pe­cially one of the is­sues for the char­ac­ter Ju­lie be­cause she’s be­ing asked to say dir­ectly what she wants and she’s 20 years old and she’s used to people kind of just ‘do­ing things’ and just her smil­ing and be­ing coy, and she’s be­ing asked to say ex­actly what she wants and it’s dif­fi­cult. Are you kid­ding? It’s dif­fi­cult for me to say ex­actly what I want, for us to say what we want in life. It’s of­ten dif­fi­cult for people and I think it tends to be more dif­fi­cult for wo­men than for men, but that’s sort of a little sex­ist view, but I do feel like that is the case.

And is this where the thrill­er part of the play comes in at? Is it a psy­cho­lo­gic­al cat-and-mouse?
Well ima­gine those movies that are both phys­ic­al and emo­tion­al, it’s the emo­tion­al that gets to us in many ways, but it is both. You’re deal­ing in a world where we say there are a lot of rules, but people are there to push the bound­ar­ies of their own phys­ic­al ex­plor­a­tion. ‘I want you to tie me up.’ ‘I want you to put needles in my back.’ ‘I want to feel pain.’ So people are push­ing them­selves phys­ic­ally, but for some people it’s about the power play. ‘I want to be dom­in­ant.’ ‘I want to be sub­missive.’ And once you start play­ing in power and it’s phys­ic­ally mani­fes­ted, then it be­comes both, emo­tion­al and phys­ic­al, and people are be­ing pushed to their bound­ar­ies. And when you’re be­ing pushed to the edge, are you al­ways sure you can hold on? Are you sure that you won’t fall over? And that’s where the thrill­er comes in. Will these people be pushed bey­ond what they can con­trol. Will someone ask for something bey­ond what they can man­age.

These two char­ac­ters ap­pear to have an im­me­di­ate at­trac­tion. Can you re­late to the idea of a dy­nam­ic be­ing forged from first meet­ing?
People get at­trac­ted to people, of course there’s phys­ic­al at­trac­tion, but there can be something about them en­er­get­ic­ally that com­pli­ments who you are en­er­get­ic­ally and you kind of gel and you feel that right away. In this case, you find out very early in the play that he’s a wan­nabe artist, but he’s work­ing for a fam­ous pho­to­graph­er and she’s the daugh­ter of this pho­to­graph­er, so then you’re deal­ing in status is­sues, but there’s also that they both un­der­stand this man, his boss/her fath­er, so that gives them something to talk about: this really power­ful, not very nice hu­man, that they both un­der­stand. That brings them to­geth­er.

Did it fall on you to cre­ate a safe en­vir­on­ment for them?
That is the dir­ect­or’s job, to cre­ate the en­vir­on­ment where the act­ors can go on this jour­ney. You guide them on the jour­ney, you some­times lead them on the jour­ney, but that is ab­so­lutely the dir­ect­or’s job to cre­ate the en­vir­on­ment so they can do their best work.

Was that par­tic­u­larly chal­len­ging for you here, be­cause of the nature of this work?
Oh yeah! (laughs)

Awk­ward mo­ments?
Oh yeah! There were a lot of them. I was al­ways like, ‘OK, now we’re gonna laugh.’ Be­cause if you look around our set, there’s a butt plug on our set, there’s dildos on our set, and more be­cause we wanted there to be the idea that the people in this room are very open about their sexu­al­ity, there’s no apo­lo­gies, there’s no shame and that’s something im­port­ant. I have to pre­tend there’s no shame, even if it’s a little awk­ward.

Do you want that to be a take-away for the audi­ence?
Well, that this is a world with no shame, but even though that’s what this world is, it doesn’t mean that there’s none for us in­di­vidu­ally. And the truth today for young people is there’s not the same rules that were true when I was grow­ing up, and not the same rules when my mom was grow­ing up and the few­er rules, the more forti­tude you have to have as a per­son to be able to nav­ig­ate it. And that is what a lot of this play is about.