Entertainment » Theatre

Three Years Later, the Story of the Boston Marathon Bombing Approaches "Finish Line"

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Apr 15, 2016

Devon Scalisi has been a force in the Boston theater scene for years, both onstage as an actor and offstage as a director and producer, as well as working in the marketing department of the Citi Performing Arts Center.

Scalisi is one of a cast of ten actors who have brought "Finish Line: The Untold Stories of the 2013 Boston Marathon," co-created by Boston Theater Company Producing Artistic Director Joey Frangieh and Lisa Rafferty, to life in previews. The play is special to Boston's arts scene, and the city as a whole, because it recounts the day, three years ago, that the Boston Marathon was the target of terrorists who detonated home-made explosive devices not far from the race's end point.

As a matter of full disclosure, this EDGE reporter is a member of the Boston Theater Critics Association, a group with which Frangieh and Rafferty have professional connections. Moreover, this EDGE correspondent is also the author of a short play Scalisi directed two years ago. Additionally, this writer was a volunteer at the Boston Marathon in 2013, when the bombing took place.

All of that is another way of saying that the Boston theater scene, and the city's community as a whole, are in many ways tight-knit. Pull at one strand, and the others will vibrate in sympathy. Boston is a city of arts and athleticism; "Finish Line" is, by virtue of its subject matter and place of origin, going to have effects both widespread and deeply affecting. For all its local importance, the play has also commanded national attention: Frangieh recently appeared in a story at NBC online, where the play's cast was also glimpsed, and the Associated Press ran a story (picked up here at EDGE) about the play.

EDGE reached out to Scalisi recently to hear his thoughts on being part of the production of the play's previews. "Finish Line" is scheduled for its world premiere in 2017.


EDGE: As I understand it, "Finish Line" is based on interviews with people who were in Boston on the day of the Marathon bombing three years ago. Is that correct?

Devon Scalisi: That's correct. The play is based on interviews, hundreds of hours of interviews that were eventually edited down and pared to tell a dramatic story. The interviews are from local people, [as well as] not local [people who] were there that day. They range anywhere from spectators to Marathon volunteers to runners to clergy to media members to police officials, EMTs, doctors... It ranges the whole gamut.

EDGE: Is the way this play is put together meant to create a portrait? Or is it meant to trace a time line of events, and skew more toward the documentary in style?

Devon Scalisi: The chronology of the show starts out on the day of the bombing, and by the end of the show it's reached the anniversary day in 2014.

EDGE: For Bostonians, that day was one of those that you remember forever -- one of those "Where were you when...?" days. What about you, Devon? Where were you that day?

Devon Scalisi: I was getting ready to come into work that day and then when I read the news, local and national, I saw notices that there were disturbances in Boston. After I did a little more research I realized what was going on, and found out that we weren't to travel to work that day. Then I spent all day glued to my laptop, reading, watching, and staying updated with what was going on.

EDGE: Yes, I remember that "Shelter in Place" directive. That was strange and scary -- eerie, really, how quiet the city was.

Devon Scalisi: That was definitely a first for Boston.

EDGE: Are you finding that you can bring some of your responses and feelings about that time -- confusion, anger, whatever you were going through -- and you can draw on all that for your performances here?

Devon Scalisi: You know, what's interesting about that is this is unlike any show that I have ever had the pleasure, I guess you could say, of participating in from a performance perspective. I've never done -- at least, to this degree -- a documentary theater piece before. To be frank, when Joey Frangieh, who is a co-creator with Lisa Rafferty, when he emailed me -- because he saw me in "The Big Meal" the year prior -- and asked me to participate in the workshop portion [of the play's development]... Just from the outset of him describing what the project was about, I agreed to it. But then when I read what he sent me, that wasn't just my characters, it was what would become the final version of the script that we're now performing.

I wept, man. I've only had a strong emotional reaction to a handful of scripts in my lifetime of doing theater, and this is easily up there for the most instantly involving script that I've ever read, in terms of it creating a direct reaction in me. Pretty much every time that I read the script following, the emotion that came out of me was about as easily accessed as anything that I've ever experienced because of the authenticity of the perspective that I was reading for. It was a wild experience, and it still is. That lingered for weeks as we processed the developmental workshop and then got into more formalized prep for rehearsals. Any time we had a table read, it just flowed out of me.

EDGE: How many characters do you play?

Devon Scalisi: I only play two: John Tlumacki, a Boston Globe photographer and reporter, and Justin Stratton, and he was an EMT for the city of Boston. Prior to our performances, we had the option from Joey and Lisa to listen to however much of the original interviews as we wanted to. I wanted to cue as much as I could off their vocal idiosyncrasies, because the way that they tell the stories, and not just the tonality that they have in the interview, is very telling to me about their mindsets during the interviews. The performances aren't meant to be direct interpretations of the interviews, but I wanted to infuse that raw authenticity into the role. It's been a powerful process!

EDGE: Has that process been cathartic for you?

Devon Scalisi: You know... yes? Yes. You started the interview off asking me what was I doing then? A lot of this process has had me re-engage in not only those experiences of what I was doing then, but how I have evolved in my thoughts about the experience since 2013. The reflection has been a real benefit for me, because it's allowed me to process what happened differently.

Opening night, Justin Stratton was there, right? It wasn't my intention to walk up to him and introduce myself. I didn't think that was something that I should [initiate], and Lisa Rafferty came backstage and said, "Justin's here. He would like to meet you." Of course I'm going to take that opportunity! I shook his hand, and I tell you -- being a part of something that's allowed me to meet these everyday people who do these amazing jobs, and being able to shake his hand, that created a lot of resolution for me because I was able to be in person with someone who'd had such a great influence on the positive outcome of the day -- x meaning the people who were injured, but who were taken care of as quickly as possible. To be able to shake the hand of a man who was one of the first to leap into action and do his job, I can't put into words what that was like.

EDGE: There's also a film shooting right now in Boston about the Marathon bombing. Why do you think now is the time for the event to come in for artistic examination?

Devon Scalisi: I'm not entirely sure that the chronology of it being three years ago is necessarily a planned experience. Joey and Lisa have been working on this for a year and a half now, and the kind of care and respect that they're putting into it is naturally going to take time. I just think it was the natural conclusion of where they were in the process and now they are ready to put it up, at least in preview form.

For the film, I don't know -- I don't know how long it took for them to pull a script together, or how long it's been [in the planning stages]. I don't know much about the film other than what I've read, that it's going to revolve around the terrorists.

But this play doesn't deal with that, and that's one of the reasons I'm most excited about the play -- it's about the stories of the people who were affected, and what they did to come out the other side, how that experience influenced their lives going forward, and how the community came together to combat what was one of the darkest days of the city's history. To not have any material dedicated to the terrorists themselves, that was a really strong point for me, in terms of my interest. I wanted to glorify those who should be glorified.

EDGE: How are audiences responding to the show?

Devon Scalisi: We close the show with a song that Joey created called "Rise" that kind of interweaves lines from the show. It's about two and a half minutes long or so. My first night, during the close of the show, I saw a gentleman sitting in the front row who was having as palpable an emotional reaction as I've ever seen an audience member have to a show. I assume it was positive, because he was nodding his head, and he was as focused in that moment as any audience member I've ever seen before. I dropped a line, I was so taken aback at what was a physical reaction from this person in the front row. It was one of the most powerful actor-to-audience moments I've ever experienced in my career.

Overall, the audiences have responded positively to it. It's interesting when you take interviews and trying to edit them down into an experience you can turn into a show, there are so many ways you could go about doing it. You become an orchestrator for a spoken word composition, and there are so many different ways that you could build this piece. What we have right now, I feel, very successfully illustrates a thoughtful memorial to the experience. It shows the resilience of the individuals in the community in Boston. For the world premiere next year, I fully expect this is going to evolve - the story is going to mature, the structural waves within the script are going to change and evolve. Next year it's going to be a different entity. We're allowing a lot of people to potentially experience personal accounts of what happened that day that they have never been given before, and depending on who you are and what your healing process has been since 2013, those stories are going to strike you in a very personal manner. You don't necessarily know how you're going to respond before you participate in hearing them.

EDGE: Do you suppose you'll be attached to the premiere when it comes about next year?

Devon Scalisi: I don't know... my entire participation in this has been day by day, even so far as to help introduce Joey and Lisa to [Citi Performing Arts Center President and CEO] Joe Spaulding to help build a partnership. At the start of this I kind of put on a brief pseudo-producing hat to see if there was any kind of collective interest that Joe and Lisa and Joey could have together to help facilitate the growth and evolution of the project. Joe took to it very quickly, and he definitely sees the merit and the value for the community in helping a theater piece like this flourish. He's doing everything he can at Citi Performing Arts Center to see that happen.

So, for next year for me? I don't know. It's whatever Lisa and Joey want to do, and I'm okay with that. The play isn't about me. This is about what's best for the piece, and what's best for the community. If there's someone else more suited for this material that they wind up using for the world premiere, I'm completely happy with that. My experience with these preview performances is already something that I'll never forget.


"Finish Line" continues in previews through April 23 at the NonProfit Center, located at 89 South Street, in Boston. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.bostontheatercompany.org/finish-line.html

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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