Playwright Tylar Pendgraft and director Troy Heard chat about ‘Sentience’

Destiny Faith Williams and Joe Basso in Sentience.

Married couple Deborah and Josh are just like us—with a few genetic upgrades. But can science help them when tragedy strikes? In Sentience, San Diego-based playwright Tylar Pendgraft creates a near-future world in which humanity and technology collide.

In advance of Sentience’s world premiere at Majestic Repertory Theater, the Weekly facilitated a conversation between Pendgraft and director Troy Heard. The playwright and director wrote questions for one another and then answered separately for maximum honesty. Their responses have been edited together into a virtual conversation.

Pendgraft: What is your hope for the plays you direct?

Heard: I hope to move an audience in some way or another. For me, the worst criticism you can ever get is, “Ehh, the show was okay.” Whether you love it passionately or are mortally offended by it, I want to provoke strong reaction. … How did you manage to find drama in such a dry topic as science?

Pendgraft: For me, science has always been a hobby. I read scientific journals [for fun]. This play burst from another idea about women and their right to control their bodies. I’ve lived with these characters for such a long time that I came to love them. I put passion and drama of everyday life into a scientific setting. ... How do you imagine the Majestic making a cultural impact on Las Vegas?

Heard: We’re taking risks and putting new voices out, producing new works. A world premiere shouldn’t just be a [unique] event, it should be something we do on the regular. ... When did you first see that we needed more strong female protagonists in pop culture?

Pendgraft: It’s always been in the back of my mind in some way. All of my protagonists have been females, especially women of color. Even if a story doesn’t specifically call for women of color, that’s what I advocate for. I’ve been navigating from my experience as a woman of color, and those are stories I wanted to tell. Writing female protagonists is not an overt act of political intention. It’s always the story inside of me that I’ve been wanting to tell in some way or another. Do you ever secretly hope I will change a difficult stage direction?

Heard: (Laughs.) I do not. The challenge of directing is in finding a creative solution to interpret the stage direction. There’s a scene in Sentience where a character tries to drown himself in the ocean. How do you do that in black box theater-in-the-round? Not only did she present a challenge in the script, I’ve given myself another challenge in staging it with audience on all four sides.

Sentience Through March 11, Thursday-Sunday, times vary, $15-$25. Majestic Repertory Theatre, majesticrepertory.com.

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