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Deborah Stein and Suli Holum Discuss the Origins of ‘The Wholehearted’

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(L-R) Suli Holum and Deborah Stein.

Photo by Ande Whyland.

Deborah Stein and Suli Holum are the artists behind Stein | Holum Projects and the new play The Wholehearted, which makes its World premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre December 2–11, 2016. The Center Theatre Group Podcast sat down to ask them about the origins of this unique work that utilizes live projections, film, and a thumping score to tell a story of love…that takes place in a boxing ring.

Holum plays Dee, a champion female boxer and victim of domestic violence who is recording a video love confession meant for the object of her affections. Stein explained that the idea to use live feed to show this process came from the video designers. “They wanted you, Suli, to be onstage with a camera that was capturing film that they could mix live,” she said. “That connected to this interest we had in self-portraiture, in a character who was going to be making a movie of herself, where she was trying to represent herself in a certain way, and that the audience would get this double vision or triple vision: Dee as she really is, Dee as she is in the movie she’s making, and then there’s this mode of the video that we call cinema world, which is the movie Dee imagines she is making.”

Holum added that the artists Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman—who have “two radically different approaches to what self-portraiture is and what it can mean”—are major influences on “the visual life of this piece.”

But so is the director Ivo van Hove (whom Center Theatre Group audiences were introduced to recently in A View From The Bridge at the Ahmanson Theatre). His Roman Tragedies (a take on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus) shows “how television, how cameras, feed a political landscape,” said Holum. “We’re doing a similar thing with sport, studying documentary footage on ESPN, that whole genre, and also just in general the evening news coverage of domestic violence, violence against women as a way of tantalizing viewers, so that’s a big piece of why the filmed content is in the play.”

Casting about for a new project, Holum brought Stein intriguing stories about female boxers, sparking a conversation “about violence and when is it justified and when isn’t it,” said Holum. “We disagreed about that, and that was the beginning of The Wholehearted.”

That conversation, said Stein, evolved into asking, “What is the relationship between violence and love?” One question for Stein at the heart of the piece is “Why do women love their abusers?” It’s a question that she said has special resonance after the recent presidential election. “I think if you had asked me two months ago, the key word in that question would have been ‘abuser,’ but now for me the key word is ‘love,’ and what is that about?”

These are questions they don’t want to answer—but do want to open up with audiences. Holum is excited about participating in post-show Stage Talks in the Douglas lobby after each show. They want audiences to come in curious…and leave with questions.

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