Did you know Wonder Woman’s creator also invented the lie detector? Knowing that before creating Diana he was building the first polygraph really puts her lasso’s powers in a whole new light. A new play explores the unusual life William Moulton Marston, the man behind Wonder Woman, and the woman the iconic character was based on. Plus, there’s his deep, abiding love of bondage, and the way he worked that into the famous feminist hero.
Lasso of Truth, running at the Marin Theatre (marinthreatre.org) until March 16, explores all this and more. I spoke with playwright Carson Kreitzer about the show and her own relationship with the iconic character.
When reading comics and working on the show, I learned how important origin stories are, and how they’re always revisiting those. I love that this is essentially the origin story for the character–where did Wonder Woman come from?
The play follows Marston and his wife, and the young graduate assistant who is helping Marston build the lie detector. Together they have this amazing family. Both women, his wife and the graduate assistant, really inspired the character. At the same time [that we learn about] Marston’s life, there is also a contemporary story of a modern girl who is looking for the very first appearance of Wonder Woman, and trying to put the pieces together. Her path is very much my path–being thrown by her childhood character having a questionable background. It’s about people who are following different lifestyles [being able to] imagine new ways to be in the world, which is incredibly useful and powerful.
How did you get interested in Wonder Woman’s creator?
A different play I was working on just happened to involve a polygraph, and while researching the lie detector, I discovered the Wonder Woman connection. It just became a landslide of information all about the polyamory and the bondage, the two women in his life living together after his death and raising his children together in the 50s, which is the most conformist time to have this unusual little family.
Wonder Woman was so important to me growing up, I came to her through the tv show. Getting to see Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman was just incredibly important and a huge part of my childhood identity. Finding out that Wonder Woman came from this place of bondage was initially really distressing, and then I took another look at the costume with the boots and the bustier and realized, oh god, how did I not realize all the connections?
So you were a Wonder Woman tv fan. Were you into the comics too?
I had some comics, but I wasn’t a huge comics person. I was raised by a mom who was really into art and graphic novels that were more classic, such as Little Nemo, Krazy Kat, and that kind of thing. But I’m sort of more omnivorous. When I read Art Spiegelman’s Maus it catapulted me back into that world.
As a playwright, I’m very jealous of graphic novels and how the world is presented that way. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is one of my favorite works of art in any genre whatsoever. The ability to get the big picture and the tiny picture all at once, and have the opportunity to have action occur between panels are such storytelling opportunities. We’ve been working on bringing that comics sensibility to the play.
Did you have to get the rights for Wonder Woman for the show?
No, Wonder Woman herself doesn’t appear in the play. This is about Marston and his creation of her, which is fact, and out there in the world. It’s about exploring the women who were in his life. And they are amazing–they are where Wonder Woman came from. It feels like she is on stage because she’s present in these two very different and fascinating women. The research assistant actually wore heavy silver bracelets which were the inspiration for the bullet-reflecting cuffs. These women were not kidding around. They lived together, they raised these wonderful and well-adjusted kids together, and after Marston’s death they continued to live together until one died in the late 80s. The other lived to be 100 and had an incredible life; she graduated from law school in 1915. Just two amazing women with a fascinating story.
Some people may only know Wonder Woman from tv or comics without knowing anything about the creator behind her. How did Marston end up creating this iconic character?
He actually invented her but H.G. Peter did the drawings. Marston created the story lines and wrote the scripts, so he came up with the scenarios but didn’t do the whole thing.
I am not from the comics world, and people who are in it are so passionate about it; it’s been fascinating coming to it as I have researched the play. I’ve read so many Wonder Woman comics, all the different eras and characters. After Marston’s death she was not a feminist character for quite a while. In the 50s, it was “Will Wonder Woman marry Steve Trevor?” and that kind of thing. She’s been so different throughout the years.
How do you bring the comics element to the stage? Was it a challenge to figure out how to bring his comics creations to life?
A wonderful graphic designer, Jacob Stoltz, has drawn us 100 different comic panels that are projected onto screens throughout the evening. Actors are interacting with this graphic world that is at the same time representing the play in a slightly different way. Some of the drawings are in noir style, some romance comics, things like that. It’s a very vital part of the play and story telling. Jacob’s stuff can be seen at jacobstoltz.com, and he’s amazing.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the show after seeing it?
There’s a lot going on in the play, and I don’t intend to have one message for people to come away with. I hope it makes people do some thinking. A lot of it is really about figuring out how we all move forward and accepting the interesting quirks and differences among us, as well as continuing on with our powerful heroines–that is really important.
In working on this play, I came to understand how much Wonder Woman has dropped out of popular culture. For people my age, we all know Wonder Woman because she was on TV and there weren’t a lot of channels at the time. We were very surprised to work with younger actresses who grew up without Wonder Woman. So I am very excited to see Wonder Woman getting back into popular culture and hope to see some movies and pop culture coming soon. We all deserve to have an invisible jet!
This show is about a creator and his relationship with his creation. What other themes and topics do you like to explore in your work?
A lot of my work is about outsiders and different perspectives on American history. I wrote one play about Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb, another play about the first female serial killer. I tend to look at people who don’t fit in and have to create their own paths, and often about women who cause trouble for one reason or another, who don’t follow the accepted script. Stories are important, especially when you’re growing up. A lot of my plays are about the different lives you could be living and stories that haven’t been told in popular culture.
The show’ currently at Marin Theatre in Mill Valley California. Any plans for this show to be performed elsewhere after this run ends?
It’s actually going to have a rolling world premiere, through the National New Play Network. Two more productions already planned, one for Synchronicity in Atlanta and another at Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City.
And, of course, I have to ask. Favorite Wonder Woman story?
I just love the original comics. They are so strange and funky and there’s so much bondage. It is all about Wonder Woman tying people up and bursting out of chains, so I really love that first super early stuff. I’ve also been completely loving the new stuff that is coming out now, the Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang stuff. So much fun! Plus, the documentaries about her have been great. Trina Robbins is so incredible. And I can’t forget to mention Phil Jimenez’s stuff!