Art, Hope, and Grief: Playwright Jason Odell Williams

“Destroying David” opens on April 9th at the Opalka Gallery at Russell Sage College. A new work from Jason Odell Williams, “Destroying David” emerged from a pandemic thought, and a lifelong fascination with the David statue stemming from Williams’ first trip abroad in his teenage years. 

Williams is the name behind many other works, including a local favorite “Church and State.” Local theatrical leader Patrick White has worked on “Church and State” before, which is how he met Williams. When Williams sent out this play to possibly interested parties, he included White – someone Williams claimed as “simpatico” to him and his work. 

Early on in the pandemic, the theatre community was abruptly halted; new work, rehearsals, and longstanding productions alike almost vanished out of thin air. Williams was left with a lot of time and limited creative spark. According to Williams, a trip to house-sit for friends in Connecticut finally gave him the space he needed to write. This serenity combined with a 2016 NYT Magazine article about the cracks in the ankles of David and a series of notes he had held on to for over a year finally gave Williams what he needed to write a piece about art and grieving in a time where we collectively were experiencing loss as a country.

The plot as per Harbinger Theatre? An unnamed Art Restorer, grieving the death of their husband David, believes the only way to heal is to destroy the most beautiful thing in the world: Michelangelo’s David. As we skip through time in the narrator’s head learning about their past relationship and the history of the statue itself, one big question looms: will they actually destroy this 500-year masterpiece? A play about art, beauty, pain, grief, and what it means to move forward when all seems lost, Destroying David is ultimately a story about hope, why we need art, and the joy life offers in everyday miracles… if we’re brave enough to see and appreciate them.

“[Destroying David] is unlike anything I have ever written,” said Williams; he cites Aaron Sorkin and Neil Simon as chief influences in his writing. “This voice is intellectual… writing him is a fun challenge.”

Williams started his life in New York as an actor, and in 2008 he “consciously decided” that he wanted to try his hand as a full-time playwright. He describes his writing process by saying that the play tells him what it wants or needs. 

“You need to write the bad first draft first to get to where you want to be,” said Williams. “It’s all about re-writing.” 

Williams is currently in the process of re-writing “Destroying David.” The version going up at the Opalka will be different from future productions and is changed from the original draft – which was a one-person show. The pace of this show is slower; the language is “heightened.” An additional layer of challenge with this work is making one person’s inner monologue intriguing as an argument on stage. 

The writer states that the most consistent theme is hope in his work, and normally includes a call to action. Both creating and consuming art, to Williams, is a great beauty of living. 

“Art is this beacon,” said Williams. “[Destroying David] is about more than just the grieving, it’s about finding your way through it.” 

“Destroying David” is directed by Amy Hausknecht and stars Chris Foster and Patrick White. The show runs April 9th through 16th, with a preview night on April 6th. Tickets are $15.

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