Drew Pisarra

Drew Pisarra is a onetime Portland poet, writer, and monologist who now lives and works in New York.


A strange case of sound over sight

Author Drew Pisarra and director Jerry Mouawad talk about collaborating on their radio drama "The Strange Case of Nick M."

What’s this? Imago Theatre, known for its highly visual and physical brand of performance, creating a radio play? In a year of unlikely events, Imago’s new production “The Strange Case of Nick M.” has an entirely logical unlikeliness: If you can’t open your theater to audiences, why not let them listen in via radio? Audiences can do just that at 10 p.m. Monday, May 3, on KBOO 90.7FM (the KBOO studios are across the street from Imago’s home in close-in Southeast Portland), and also via livestream on KBOO’s website here. It’ll also be available to stream May 7-16; ticket information here.

“Nick M.,” which centers on the story of a man who can remember only what’s happened in the past 30 seconds, is a collaboration between writer Drew Pisarra and director Jerry Mouawad. Pisarra, the onetime Portland poet, writer, and monologist who now lives and works in New York, and Mouawad, Imago’s co-founder and co-artistic director, are longtime friends and collaborators who first worked together in 1994. Here, they sit down (virtually) for an inside conversation about how they put together a new piece in a medium neither had worked in before, shifting from movement to sound:


Jerry Mouawad: What do you think defines a play to be performed as a radio play rather than live? We’ve had lots of discoveries about this topic. One that stands out is how the imagination of the listener is a crucial component. 

Drew Pisarra:  For radio plays, I think that imagination can be nurtured by having a narrator. I was lucky in that early in our creative process, I was listening to the Public Theater’s radio adaptation of Richard II. They’d inserted a narrator into the script repeatedly, which far from being bothersome was immensely enjoyable. I mean, it was Lupita N’yongo. How could it not be? But it also sparked an idea. How might our story benefit from an all-knowing narrator? And thus, the podcaster character was born. 

Drew Pisarra, author of “The Strange Case of Nick M.,” with ancient writing implement. Photo: Steven Burton/Cafe Royal Cultural Foundation

JM: This story revolves around Nick M., a man who has anterograde amnesia, where his short-term memory in the radio play begins at only 5 seconds and eventually evolves to several minutes. He lives in a kind of moment that seems to  us a hell, or at least your fictitious podcaster relays that to us. A moment that is not necessarily bliss, yet for him it’s not such a big deal – he does not  judge the moment the same way the other characters see his “stuckness.” Do you agree with how I see his view of the moment? As the play goes on, his regard of the moment becomes negative because of his response to how others are trying to fix him and this unusual perspective of the moment.