Stepping into The Inner Circle - a talk with playwright Colin Pink
Interview by Ken Wohlrob

While discussing his latest play, The Inner Circle, Colin Pink tells a funny story about a writer-friend of his who during the middle of watching the play turned around and called Pink a sick bastard.

After seeing The Luminous Group's performance of the play at the Sande Shurin Theatre in Manhattan, I can understand why she said that. There are times when The Inner Circle can be downright uncomfortable to watch, forcing you to turn your head as if to say, "that's it I've had enough". During one scene where two female characters are attacking another woman handcuffed to a chair, you can watch the somewhat more squeamish members of the audience curl in their seat, unsure as to whether or not they want to watch the rest of the play.

However this is not merely a pulp fiction of violence thrown on a small Manhattan stage solely for shock value. Pink crafts a very eerie story of Simon, a sadistic artist who is an expert at peering into the souls of those around him and using their weaknesses against them solely for his own vain pleasures. Surrounding Simon are three women, all of whom need the artist in some way and suffer for their dependency.

Expertly played by Bruce du Bose, Simon not only uses the women's weaknesses against themselves, but uses them to pit the characters against one another. Kay played by Jennifer Rice is a primal cockney girl sick of being rejected by those around her. Mickey Pantano plays Marcia, a pop art tick who has suffered for clinging to Simon's fame. While Debbie, played by Kristina O'Neal, is a former painter who's been drained of her abilities by Simon undermining her confidence. All of these traits are held on strings by Simon who pulls the right one whenever he wants to attack one of the women. What's worse is that sometimes he does it just for fun.

Pink flew to the States to witness the opening of the play and was good enough to take time out to talk to Bully about the elements of The Inner Circle, the background on Simon, and the very "British" elements of his work.

Bully: The first place I want to start is with the origins of Simon. He's the central part of the play and a very interesting character. Is he based on any real artists? Is he based on a friend? Is he an amalgam of several people?

Colin Pink: He's based on really a couple of artists I suppose. One day I just got thinking about . . . I don't know it just popped into my mind that one thing that Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon had in common, even though they had nothing artistically in common, was that they tended to attract certain individuals around them that were actually very damaged by contact with them. So they had these groups of people and they all fucked up really. They were weaker individuals and it's very damaging for them to be near these artists. I thought that was a really interesting situation to explore. So that was the germ of the idea for the play.

B: Speaking of how they get screwed up, there seems to be a very vampirsh, kind of leech imagery running throughout the play. You have Simon feeding off Debbie's painting abilities, Simon sucking the life out of Marcia leaving this kind of corpse on the canvas. Being it's such a major theme, where did you cross that line where "alright, here's these people that are kind of screwed up" to where their ills are a result of how Simon treats these people?

CP: The idea really was that he was such a clever, manipulative character - he manipulates all the people around him. He identifies the weakness in their character and he exploits that. So he exploits the lack of confidence of Debbie and the addictive personality of Marcia and the longing for love of Kay. He identifies all those little weak spots and he uses them to get them where he wants them. What's so interesting is that all those weak things reverberate back on him so on one hand he's exploiting them but then at the end it all goes wrong because he doesn't take into account the fact that Kay's unstable. The reason he doesn't get saved by Debbie at the end is because of her character's indecisiveness. So it all turns back on him.

B: Simon is essentially a calm character. With the exception of the attack on Debbie, he's very British - very calm and sedate. Simon actually reminded me a lot of Michael Palin in Brazil. Palin plays the torturer/executioner and yet, every time you see him on screen, he's walking out very nicely, "Hi, how are you." Simon comes across the same way: he's very sedate, very jovial, even when the other characters are getting on his nerves. During the party, there's the funny part where he says "I feel like a party!" and then he has to suck on the asthma inhaler. It's not the evil sadist that you see within his soul. I wanted you to comment on how this character kind of flip flops at a key moment in the play that really sets up his downfall.

CP: It probably just came naturally. It's a very British way of behaving. We'll be pleasant on the surface but really nasty underneath. I think the thing about British culture is that it's very deceptive and very critical and this is the avenue that I'd like to expose. The way people behave, what's under the surface. I like to contrast the surface and what's really going on.

B: How much of Simon's attack on Debbie is tied into how he can't control her? If you notice within the characters, he has obvious control over Kay and Marcia, but Debbie seems to be the one who can push back on him, with the exception of the party. It almost seems like Debbie is the only character who will push back and taunt him. The characters seem to be playing up to his expectations of them.

CP: In those early stages that's what they're doing. Debbie's needling him and that's why he takes his revenge when she's vulnerable. She mentions Maxine and you never, ever, mention Maxine and that's why he goes after her.

B: It seems as if Debbie, as much as she's dependent on him, she's not intended to be a pawn like the other two characters. The other two characters are obviously very dependent on how Simon thinks of them. Whereas Debbie is more like "I'm here, I care for this person, but I don't necessarily have to be here." She can paint and she can paint when he's not there. In fact it actually works against her because when he is around she can't paint.

CP: I don't actually see her as independent as you see her. I see her as much more dependent on Simon and having no confidence. He just destroys her confidence. She comes from a background where she doesn't have any natural training to counteract the way he undermines her. There's a certain kind of way people are brought up in . . . again I think it's a British thing. They're brought up to be very apologetic for anything they're good at and to be very modest and not to make the best out of themselves. That's the way I see Debbie being brought up. It makes her very vulnerable, the low self-esteem and confidence.

B: In thinking about love in the play, it seems like Debbie is the only one who loves Simon.

CP: Kay loves Simon.

B: But Kay seems to want something from Simon, as does Marcia. Whereas Debbie really doesn't want anything from Simon.

CP: Debbie's is more of a sensitive love. Kay's is more of a desperate love. It's like you want to be almost reassured about your own existence.

B: It seems like much in the way you say the truest love is the person who can forgive your faults and shortcomings, Debbie is very forgiving of Simon. Even after the horror he puts her through during the party, she's still there. Without giving away the ending, it seems interesting that Kay, who is the least intelligent character out of the whole group...

CP: The least educated.

B: Okay, but the character is not as educated as the other characters - a very cockney, working class girl. Marcia seems to come from a somewhat of a richer background, not living the life she wants. But it's interesting that you then pick that character [Kay] to issue Simon's own epitaph - "Everything that is imperfect must be destroyed." She ends up paying him back for all the ill wills. Did you have that idea from the start?

CP: She is a bomb waiting to go off and she does. She acts on impulse and doesn't really think about the consequences at the time. That's why she is so dangerous to tamper with. The point about the characterisation of Kay is that she is so damaged because of her background and the way she handles his rejection, it is like the final rejection of Simon is the final straw. She's not just reacting to the immediate. This is something I think is very important - people never react solely to the thing that's immediately happened. It's got lots of background to it and all the things that have happened in their life and something can just trigger something off. That's the situation with Kay really, that it's all the other shit that's happened that contributes to that extreme reaction.

B: There's kind of an interesting line where Marcia says that Simon is "painting himself". You get the idea that Simon lives off the people around him and leeches their energy from them. Marcia says this right after Debbie talks about the smell from the dustbin being caused by the things rotting inside. Is the tie that Simon wants to paint ugliness and the grotesque, but because he's painting himself, he can't face his own ugliness? So he's using these women to portray that?

CP: It's a good question. I don't actually know the answer to that. I see Simon as a very narcissistic personality. Other people are only of interest as far as they reflect back upon himself. He uses people up just like squeezing a lemon and throwing it away. If he's interested in people, he'll suck them in and he'll rapidly lose interest in someone like Kay for example. There's a lot of people like that around. I think what's interesting is that so many people identify with the Simon-Debbie relationship. I've met so many people that have said, "I know someone who's in that kind of relationship," or they'll say, "I was once in that relationship", where somebody else becomes dependent on a more dominant person and they destroy their confidence. Like when we last flew to New York, we stayed with a friend one night and she's a photographer. She did use to live with this famous photographer and he totally destroyed her confidence in photography, and she just stopped taking photographs. Debbie in the play stops painting, and it's quite uncanny to me how many people that's happened to. It has a very great resonance with a lot of people.

B: Going back to that idea of Simon painting himself . . .

CP: He's painting himself because he is totally self-absorbed. He is the only important person in the universe. At the same time, I know a lot of artists and you can always see they give off this look that is quite scary. They do look at you in such an intense way while painting, that you can feel that you're being absorbed by them. It does make them feel quite special and it's a bit scary because it's such an intense, complicated looking. It's not the sort of looking that people normally do to one another. It is an unusual experience really, having that. Maybe it came from me thinking about that.

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