Discovering THREE STEPS BACK with Playwright Peter J. Kuo

Photo by Michael C. Palma
What are some of the themes you explore in Three Steps Back?

As a writer, I’ve always been fascinated with assumptions and revelations. When audiences or characters make assumptions about someone, I love to take those assumptions and blow them out of the water by revealing something completely different about that person. It challenges first impressions and stereotypes. I’ve always hated the idea that because someone is “this” then they must also be “that.”

Because of the way Three Steps Back is structured -- where you see the same 30 minutes but played out in three different locations; the house, back alleyway and the garage that connects them -- you only get bits of pieces of each character’s story. I’m amazed at how people take those bits and pieces, fill in the gaps and suddenly think they know everything about someone. The play challenges audiences to look back at their own personal moments, relationships, and people in their lives and rethink them.

The play is riddled with schadenfreude. It also allows people to laugh at the misfortunes of others. The characters are cruel, pitiful, conniving, and very wicked in their humor with each other. And in the end, they get what they deserve, so it’s rather fulfilling.

What do you hope to accomplish through this reading?

I’m really excited to be working with Kimberly Colburn as a dramaturg and Skyler Gray as a director. With their insight and theatrical expertise, they are helping me smooth out some of the imperfections in the script and make the structure more logically sound while bringing more depth to the characters. When I first approached this show, it was all about the plot. I knew what I wanted to happen, what to reveal, when and how I wanted to “trick” the audience, and how it would all come together. But the characters served more as tools to fulfill a plot. With my artistic team’s help, I’ve already started reshaping more dynamic characters, with more background and depth. Their guidance is showing me that what the characters reveal about themselves is just as important to the overall story.

What is the history of Three Steps Back?

I first thought of the concept of this play in 2007. I was in the middle of writing another play The Amazing Wedding Race, when an idea for what I thought was an “edgy” drama popped into my head. So I just sat down and started hammering it out. Within one night I had already written the first two acts. But I shelved the project, and in 2008 my computer crashed and I lost everything. In 2009, an opportunity to apply for East West Players’ David Henry Hwang Writers Institute came up, and so I knew I wanted to dig up this story again and work on it. Again, in one night I retyped the whole thing from memory. I would say it was exactly the same in plot points, but fluctuated in dialogue.

It was written as a drama, because I had already written a comedy with Amazing Wedding Race. In class, the instructor Prince Gomolvilas dropped the bomb, “Why don’t you turn this into a comedy?” And so I did, and it’s certainly better as a result. When I spoke to my Artists at Play cohorts about wanting to develop one of my plays, there was interest in reviving Three Steps Back. And now here we are.


Three Steps Back by Peter J. Kuo will be presented as part of Artists at Play's first reading series day on Sunday, March 24th. Get your tickets now!

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