In my experience, there are two kinds of science fiction that tend to make their way to movie audiences: action blockbusters with a veneer of futuristic technology like The Terminator or The Matrix, or glorified disaster movies depicting the triumph of the human spirit (Armageddon and The Martian spring to mind).
Those sorts of movies are fine, sometimes great; occasionally, though, a more thoughtful, emotional, personal take on sci-fi squeaks through the Hollywood machine, a Moon, or a Children of Men, or more recently an Arrival. These films follow a more literary tradition of science fiction, in the vein of Robert A. Heinlein or Philip K. Dick; they ask big questions about human nature and how we might act and think in an uncertain future.
I’ve always been drawn to these types of stories, whether they be on film, in print, or (rarely) in theater. That’s what I attempt to create in Lazarus. It’s sci-fi with a heart, focused on people rather than spectacle. It builds a speculative world of the future, but with an emphasis on timeless aspects of human nature that make it relevant today.
The imaginative seed for this play was a dream, if you can believe that. No, even more cryptic: it was a scrawled note on my nightstand, written by a 4 AM me recently woken from a dream I’ll probably never remember. Four words, barely legible: “I sell life, secondhand.” Reading those words, I get a vague image of a man. A doctor. Disgraced, reduced to patching up criminals in abandoned buildings. He’s bored, he’s tired, he’s forgotten the ‘why’ behind his work. He sells life—is there any idea more dystopian than that? Life as a commodity, bought, sold, traded.
From this seed sprung Lazarus. It’s the 2160s. The Lazarus procedure has revolutionized medicine and made it possible to live forever—for the right price. The wealthy have achieved functional immortality, while the poor, the genetically inferior, the Plebes scrabble along underfoot.
Dax, the doctor born from my dream, helped develop the procedure and was an early recipient of it, but later fell from grace and now operates on wealthy felons as a back-alley cut man. When a woman comes to him asking for help with her dying infant, he’s forced to question what immortality really means: is it simply his continued existence, or might it be the mark he leaves on the world?
I’ve thought a lot about death and mortality in the past few years. Too many loved ones exist now only in memory. I’m not alone in this, of course, but that’s precisely the point, that’s the human condition. Science fiction gives me the freedom to explore a world where that human condition has changed, while still getting at some fundamental truths from our collective experience of loss, grief, and hope in the face of it all.
It’s my hope that audiences for this show will think about their own views on life and death, the world that they’ll leave behind, and what resonance their life will have after they move on. Given the current state of our country, I think that idea weighs heavy on many of our minds: what world will we leave our children? What legacy will we leave as a nation, as a generation, as a human race? Moreover, what will our personal ‘immortality’ be? What will remain of us when we are gone?
Evan Crump is an award-winning playwright and actor in the DC area. He is the founder and Artistic Director of Unstrung Harpist Productions, which won Best Drama at the 2010 Fringe Festival for his play Genesis. He has an MFA in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature from Mary Baldwin University and the American Shakespeare Center, and is a doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at The George Washington University. Between this and his work for companies like the Kennedy Center, WSC Avant Bard, First Stage, and NextStop, he still finds the time to be a long-suffering DC sports fan.