Featured photo: Playwright of “Rain on Fire,” Karen Saari. Rehearsal photos courtesy of FIM
By Tanya Terry
The play “Rain on Fire” tells the painful story of a family dealing with an opioid crisis. The world premiere of the play takes place at FIM Flint Repertory Theatre September 15 –October 1. It is inspired by actual events, and the playwright talked to the Courier about addiction within her family.
Karen Saari, playwright of “Rain on Fire,” said she appreciates how Michael Lluberes, managing director of FIM Flint Repertory Theatre, has said that although the play is set in the Upper Peninsula, it will resonate with Flint audiences.
Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, Lluberes said “’Rain on Fire” is surprisingly funny and full of twists and turns.
Saari said the humor was placed in the play intentionally to make it less tough and to help audiences to connect with the characters.
“As a playwright, sometimes a voice or a story, just starts tapping you on the shoulder,” explained Saari. “It could be relentless. When it’s relentless like that, it usually means that this a story that needs to be told, and I’m the one who needs to tell it.”
In 2018, Saari had an idea. She asked herself what would happen if somebody’s last obligation was an emotionally-charged request such as a request Marie’s mom made of her as a final wish.
“At the same time, I had also been trying to learn more about the opioid crisis in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and areas like that,” Saari added. “Those two things combined and ended up turning into the story.”
Saari is from a very small town called Mass City, in Michigan.
Although Saari said Marie in the play is not her, Saari recently lost her parents as Marie did.
“Much like Marie, I lost my parents about two years apart. My mom was not a pill addict like Marie’s mom in the play. But I was grieving. While I was in that process and doing a lot of the business that comes with losing a parent and having to manage the estate, I was spending more time in my hometown. In that, I just found myself really seeing how it was. There was less and less access to healthcare. Then at the same time, there were more and more stories in the news about people who seemed like the least likely to be going to jail going to jail, or who had turned to drugs either as a business or as a way to feel better. It had really become a problem.”
Saari was learning about the Sackler family.
The Sackler family owned the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. Purdue Pharma, and some members of the family, have faced lawsuits regarding overprescription of addictive pharmaceutical drugs.
“I became fascinated with the impact opioids were starting to have in the community.”
As far as addiction in her own family, Saari’s dad was a recovering alcoholic.
“The presence of addiction was pretty huge in my life, and in the lives of my family members. I have several relatives that are in recovery, and I know I have some loved ones who are still battling addiction. It’s interesting how we talk about or don’t talk about things.”
The production was developed at Flint Rep’s 2022 New Works Festival. It is directed by Ted Schneider.
The cast includes Mark Gmazel, Jazmine Kuyayki Broe, Kevin O’Callaghan (Death of A Salesman), Bello Paolo Pizzimenti, Sarah Price and Karen Sheridan (Ragtime).
Saari described members of the cast as real, raw, full of heart, smart, compassionate, vulnerable, funny, intense, energizing and earthy. Based off the audience’s comments at Flint Rep’s 2022 New Works Festival, Saari said audience members tended to each be drawn to one particular character.
The play features original music by Danielle Anderson of Danielle Ate the Sandwich. According to Saari, music plays a big role in the play.
Tickets are currently available at www.tickets.thefim.org, at FIM Ticket Center box offices at FIM Whiting Auditorium and FIM Capitol Theatre, or by calling (810) 237-7333. Genesee County residents receive a 30% discount as a benefit of the Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Millage.