Transgender playwright Siah Berlatsky has created an original work called Malapert Love that is currently being presented by the team of The Artistic Home. The world premiere opened on November 10, 2022, at The Den Theatre on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago's Wicker Park area to critical acclaim.
The tale follows many adventures in mismatched romantic relationships brought to life by a hilarious group of characters, several of whom are part of the LGBTQ+ community. While set in Elizabethan times, the diverse performers convey the material in an easily digestible way that will satisfy audiences of all ages.
Berlatsky wrote this piece at age of 15, displaying a style well beyond her years. She has already worked with Cabinet of Curiosity, Lookingglass Theatre and Chicago Youth Shakespeare, among others.
This talented 19-year-old sat down on the night of the debut to describe her personal journey into the world of Malapert Love.
Windy City Times: Where are you from?
Siah Berlatsky: I was born and raised in Chicago. I grew up in Hyde Park and moved to Avondale seven years ago. I have attended Chicago theater my entire life.
WCT: Did you always want to be a writer?
SB: I always wanted to be in theater. I went to The Chicago High School for the Arts and studied acting there. I have been going to theater camps and taking classes for as long as I can remember.I would still call myself an actor, but this is the most success I have ever had, so I guess I am a writer for now!
WCT: At what age did you write Malapert Love?
SB: I started it when I was 15 years old.
WCT: What was your inspiration for the material?
SB: At 15, I was starting to hit puberty and experience my sexuality with my gender identity. I had many male friends who were growing into themselves and becoming confident young men, who were going on dates and talking about girls. The process felt disconnected and comical to me, somebody whose gender did not line up with what I was presenting at that time. This play was born of that.
Shakespeare has been a very deep love of mine for a long time. I performed my first Shakespeare play in seventh grade. I have been enthralled by it ever since. I felt the urge to write a response or an adaptation. I wanted to work on something that followed the tropes and styles that I liked so much in Shakespeare. I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I hoped that this language, structure and ideas would remain accessible to everyone.
WCT: The show reminded me of commedia dell'arte, which I studied in school, with over-the-top characters speaking in a flowery language.
SB: Totally. Shakespeare is what I know more about but Malapert Love is just classical theater in general, which is really the inspiration.
WCT: Was Skip or any of the other characters modeled after someone you knew in real life?
SB: At first they all were, but then [they] became characters of their own. Montoya was based on my best friend in high school teasingly. I know an Esperanza too. Really they are all from friends in high school, but are crafted around the ways I felt back then about love and relationships.
WCT: Where did the line "love is a fungus" come from?
SB: I have no idea where I came up with it, but it is really good! There are moments like that which still surprise me now.
WCT: The cast was excellent. How were they found?
SB: A few of them are members of The Artistic Home ensemble. They read their roles during the development workshop for the Summer on the Patio series last year. Some of the cast are people that the director Julian Hester just found in a casting call. Everyone is so talented.
WCT: Did you see your work in a different way after the cast brought it to life?
SB: Yes. This process was interesting to me in the way that people have found different interpretations and brought so much of themselves to the text. That is what is so incredible about theater and the collaborative form of the arts. Everyone gets to have so much input and expression.
WCT: What do you feel about performers improving the lines that you wrote?
SB: That is part and parcel of the kind of play that it is. I appreciate it, especially if it gets a laugh. It makes me look good.
WCT: Sounds like a healthy attitude. What would you like audiences to take away from Malapert Love?
SB: The main thing I hope audiences take away is that love is not to be taken so seriously. Everything in life can be and should be laughed at because humor and laughter are liberating. The more one laughs in life, the happier a person is in general.
WCT: I think having such a diverse creative team allows the audience to know it is a safe space and a place to laugh freely inside the theater.
WCT: What are you doing next?
SB: Malapert Love is being published by a company, so be on the lookout for that.
WCT: So other companies will be able to perform your show in various parts of the world?
SB: Yes. I have two other plays that are ready to go as well, so I just need someone to produce them.
WCT: What subjects are you tackling with those works?
SB: I have one that is written in the same farcical style as Malapert Love. This one is a love letter to classical theater, but the new one is influenced by Oscar Wilde and Agatha Christie. It is a murder mystery and quite funny if I do say so myself.
The other one is contemporary written in a modern language vernacular. It is about communication and social etiquette. It is a satire.
WCT: You are creating a well-rounded amount of work then.
SB: That is the goal!
WCT: So you are staying here in Chicago for the foreseeable future?
SB: Yes. I love the theater scene here. There is a robust amount of independent theater companies here, which is not always prevalent in other cities. I am excited to continue working here.
Malapert Love pines away at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Avenue, from now until December 11, 2022. Tickets can be found at TheDenTheatre.com or by calling 773-697-3830.