ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Playwright Lisa Kron has mined her own life to create her work. She wrote a play about being the child of a Holocaust survivor and another about her mother's activism and struggles with chronic illness. Kron's latest play is currently getting its world premier at the Humana Festival of New American Plays, at Actors Theatre of Louisville. And it, too, draws on her own experiences, but it's an experience shared by millions of people.
Elizabeth Kramer tells us more.
ELIZABETH KRAMER, BYLINE: Lisa Kron had a problem with her telephone company's customer service.
LISA KRON: And I found myself screaming at this person: I'm going to write a play about this. And there was a little bit of a beat, and what I perceived the person on the other end of the phone doing was sort of shrugging and saying, you know, go ahead, knock yourself out.
KRAMER: So Kron did, and she stars in it.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "THE VERI**ON PLAY")
KRON: (as herself) OK. So a couple of months ago, I get this Ferizon bill that said I had an unpaid balance of 153.64.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as David) That's (bleep).
KRON: (as herself) Right? And I was like I know I paid that bill. So I looked at my records and discovered that I had paid the bill, but I had paid it to Ferizon Wireless because - OK. So boring. I used to pay Ferizon, Ferizon Wireless separately, but then they changed it and put it together into one bill.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) This is so like what happened to me.
KRON: (as herself) OK. David, just let me finish, OK?
KRAMER: You heard right. That's Ferizon with an F.
KRON: But it's a little bit more ambiguous in the title.
KRAMER: In the title, it's spelled V-E-R-I, then two asterisks, O-N. Her cast members were quick to offer their own customer service nightmares. One was Clayton Dean Smith.
CLAYTON DEAN SMITH: My apartment building was purchased by a developer, one of the colossal real estate corporations. I gave them notice that I was leaving, and I never heard back from anyone. Finally, in the end, I left my keys on the floor of the apartment. My rent invoices continued to come. When I called the automated system and finally eventually managed to get a hold of a human, she said, I'm sorry. We can't help you. You're not in our system. You are no longer a tenant. And I said, you're right.
KRAMER: Kron drew on stories like this. She researched customer service relations and even case law, and she peppers her play with facts.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "THE VERI**ON PLAY")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) You know, I was on the phone with the representative for at least 45 minutes, going over every line of fine print. And just as the call was ending, just to be clear, I said, just to be clear, we are talking about a 4 percent interest rate, right? And the man said - he said, yes, sir. You're all set at 32 percent interest, and then he hung up the phone.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) That can't be legal.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) Well, according to the Supreme Court's 1978 decision on Marquette versus First Omaha Services, it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) I called him right back and said cancel, cancel, cancel, cancel.
LES WATERS: I thought it was hilarious when I read it.
KRAMER: That's Les Waters, the artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. He got to know Kron two years ago when her play "In The Wake" had a run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where Waters was associate director.
WATERS: I think she's one of the smartest people that I know. She's very intelligent, very funny and very compassionate. And it's like being in the presence of a great mind going at breakneck speed.
KRAMER: At the Humana Festival, Kron's newest work has been playing to nearly sold out crowds.
KRON: I have come to realize that there is nothing people identify with more strongly than a customer service nightmare. And it's up there with birth and death.
KRAMER: And as with those two momentous life events, there's very little you can do once you're put on hold. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Kramer in Louisville.