By Jason Schlafstein
Gwydion Suilebhan is a busy dude. He’s a blogger, public speaker, community leader, outspoken thinker and, most notably, a local DC playwright. Along the way he’s become a major artistic advocate in the city, with a significant online presence pushing for more local work and local voices on area stages. He’s also not afraid to let his geek flag fly.
His newest play, REALS, is a look at the men and women who take their love of capes and cowls off the page and onto the street by becoming “Real Life Super Heroes.” At a time when epic Super Hero stories are all over our movie screens, it makes sense to see them on the stage as well. REALS opens next week at Theater Alliance, so I caught up with Gwydion to ask him about the play, the power of masks and super powers in general.
SCOUT: What is a Real Life Super Hero?
GWYDION: One of a large number of people around the country who create and adopt, to varying degrees, a superhero persona and then either do good deeds or fight crime.
SCOUT: What is the RLSH scene in DC like?
GWYDION: The same as it is everywhere else in the country: secretive, at least to some extent. We had a bit of notoriety recently when a fellow who dresses up as Batman (and who owns a custom-designed Batmobile) got pulled over in Montgomery County. He’s become an interesting and prominent figure for his work visiting sick children. We used to have two heroes named the Guardian and Captain Prospect, but they’ve both, as I understand it, left the area. We now have a woman named Stormbringer who leads our local community; I have, as of yet, been unable to learn much about her.
SCOUT: So talk to me about REALS. What drove you to tell this story?
GWYDION: I first started thinking about the play that became Reals with the release and subsequent popularity of The Dark Knight. I thought to myself: half a billion dollars’ worth of tickets for another Batman movie? I love the caped crusader as much as anyone—probably a good deal more—but I was nonetheless astonished by how powerfully America craved him. [And] I’d read an article about DC's Captain Prospect, who dressed up in a costume and walked around cleaning up parks and doing good deeds, so I started to do a bit more research. Pretty quickly I was fully immersed in the world of real-life superheroes, and I knew I had my subject.
SCOUT: What is it about a mask that makes it easier to do good?
GWYDION: I think that what a mask does is it lets the wearer feel less insecure. This is NOT the same thing, mind you, as feeling more secure. Our insecurities and fears are what weigh us down and keep us from acting on our highest principles. There’s also something about the mask helping us adopt an idealized persona. The only thing is: you can only wear a mask for so long before it stops working, or before you start mistaking the mask for the real person beneath it.
SCOUT: Last questions, if you could have one super power, what would it be, and why?
GWYDION: This question is usually framed, in my experience, as a choice between flight and invisibility. I find the choice of flight to be selfish; it’s usually about being able to hit Cancun without buying a plane ticket. I myself would choose invisibility, so that I can sneak into the halls of power in this country and surreptitiously record the evildoings of the rich and corrupt, then reveal all their secrets to the world. Having said that, if I could choose any superpower, I think I might want to be able to make people lose their delusions, gently and without any psychological trauma: to help them see the universe as it really is. We’d all be better off in no time.
Intrigued yet? I'm practically ready to don a cape. But Gwydion's play can do one better: for a night full of masks, Kevlar and brightly colored pleather go see REALS, written by Gwydion and directed by Shirley Serotsky. It opens August 27 and runs through September 16 at Theater Alliance (1365 H St., NE).