The Empaths is a theatrical comedy.
It premiered at the Wellfleet Harbor Actor's Theater.
I gotta say, this thing you’re doing—going deep, revealing truths...it’s freakin’ awesome!
– Lichen Vargas-Koen-Spence-Anderson
The back story of how John Markus (my co-writer) and I wrote the script:
JM: After connecting with a prospect on a dating site, the ritualistic next step is a phone call. If that first chat was going well, before hanging up I would suggest, “What do you say we skip the first date and go right into couples counseling?” If she laughed, I’d asked her out. That suggestion became the notion I brought to you to start to populate the play and create the story.
RB: The idea appealed to me right away because who hasn’t wanted to press fast-forward on a new relationship? There's a fantasy that if we knew everything upfront, we'd be able to protect ourselves from making amistake.
JM: Early on, it felt essential to make The Empaths a snapshot of today. Somehow, that meant front-loading the story with a young woman’s struggle to find both ideal love AND a career. Then, on top of all that, she’s working with a therapist to unravel the knots of an unhealthy bond with her father. Of course, with comedy you start things off messy, then begin piling on.
RB: Enter Celine. She's been looking for The One for a long time. When the play starts, her relationship with her father–the most stable force in her life–has been rocked and Celine’s search for the perfect mate takes on a fever pitch. But there's a saying: Love is like a shadow; if you chase it, it will run and Celine’s white-knuckle approach hasn’t done her any favors. Most people (except maybe John) might be hesitant to enter couples therapy with a stranger.
JM: Are you kidding? I’ve been trying to talk my shrink into letting me do that for years. Back to Celine, though. To complicate things, the idea was to present her with the seemingly “perfect” guy. Make him too good to be true, then reveal that, indeed, he is too good to be true.
RB: We created Lichen to be emblematic of the segment of the younger generation who’ve developed a new language that rejects binary labels and hierarchical assumptions. I think it’s an amazing, positive shift in our culture, but the semantics are changing at a rapid clip, and it can be hard to keep up. Lichen is consumed by his effect on others, carefully monitoring everything he does and says. There's this great moment when he reaches a breaking point and realizes how he’s sublimated his entire sense of self.
JM: I think The Empaths was written with a bit of wizardry. A pro-therapy audience member will be engaged by these characters and their dilemmas, and laugh a lot. And, impossibly, someone who’s anti-therapy will be equally engaged, and laugh at the same situations.
RB: And therapists. They'll love it. We vetted the play with a few psychoanalysts (including one I may or may not see on Tuesday mornings) and we got a lot of thumbs up, a couple of why do you think my approval is so important to you? and– across the board–nods that suggested a high level of enthusiasm.