This play took its time coming to a local stage, first stopping in New York, Charlotte, Pennsylvania and Nashville. All told, we had to wait about five years, but a quick read of the script proves it was worth the wait.
Insider caught up with Grisanti about the play, its origins and what it says about social and economic justice — as well as consent.
“I wanted to explore my worst impulses dramatically,” says Grisanti. “You know, I try to be a good ally, and I feel like sometimes I’m so empathetic that I stop being helpful and start getting in the way.”
Grisanti’s personification of her impulses is Ada, the main character in “Patron Saint.” Ada is a call-center employee who drifts in and out of reality, and backward in her memory, as she struggles with insomnia. It’s a setup that allows Ada to do some deep thinking, while Grisanti keeps the action moving.
But Grisanti didn’t start out with a call center, or even Ada.
“I wrote some bad pages during the season I sojourned in L.A.,” she explains. “I think the initial premise was, like, a woman who had moved into an apartment in which someone died. That was the starting point, but that had nothing to do with anything. But the character was born in those random pages.”
Later, in 2013, Grisanti wrote the first full draft of the play, and its themes and ideas started to emerge.
“I started thinking about this weird temp job I had the summer after grad school,” she says.
In that job, where she took complaint calls for a large property management company, she saw the ugly side of the business.
“They were all residential properties. People call in with their complaints about apartments, and I had to write down their complaints,” she says. “As one of my co-workers put it, ‘Our job is to let the customers vent until they get over it’ …. Then nothing would be done, ever. It was deeply messed up.”
That job led to situations where people really needed help, but Grisanti, and now Ada, couldn’t help those people through normal channels.
While one thread of the story in “Patron Saint” follows Ada in the call center, another follows a student at divinity school and a situation that is again loosely based in Grisanti’s life.
“It’s from my grad school, based on a kind of ‘#MeToo’ moment before ‘#MeToo’ was popularized,” she says.
In examining the broader arc of Ada’s actions — at best ineffective and at worse creating problems for those she seeks to help — Grisanti offers a pretty intense observation about allyship and social justice.
“These institutions are so large and intractable, as individuals we’re trying whatever we can to make change, to make things better, but we can’t make change on our own,” she says. “We have to build coalitions, which is harder and takes time, especially in the face of these large intractable institutions.”
Despite being four years old, the play explores today’s hot-button issues surrounding consent. When is consent not consent? People are talking about consent that is coerced in an uneven power dynamic, or only given when people didn’t feel they could safely say no.
“It’s amazing that phrases like ‘micro aggression’ and ‘uneven power dynamic’ and ‘systems of oppression’ — all the phrases that are so common in social justice circles — are starting to become common parlance,” says Grisanti. “To me, it’s important to explore these. As #MeToo has shown us, and as we knew already anyway, every woman has experienced either harassment or assault, or something in that spectrum. Multiple times, probably.”
Dramatically, that means an exploration full of unspoken threats, emotionally charged gaslighting and institutional silencing of voices who speak out of turn. It works as a discussion of the issues, but it also creates the sort of slow-burn action that inhabits many of the best plays of the modern era.
Grisanti hasn’t been an active part of the rehearsal process for Looking for Lilith’s production, but she’s anxious to see the show.
“I’m actually really curious to see how the play plays in this post-#MeToo world we’re living in,” she says. “I’m interested to see how audiences react.”
“The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep” runs from March 15-24 at the Kentucky Center’s MeX Theater, 501 W. Main St. Tickets are $21. Grisanti will be doing a post-show talkback after the 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, March 24.