Jeff Daniels says he was originally going to write a comedy when he sat down to work on his newest play Flint.
But then Trump happened. And Charlottesville.
So Daniels started to think about the precursors that might explain what made those things possible.
Events like the shooting of Michael Brown. And the protests in Ferguson. And the Flint water crisis.
Daniels eventually ended up writing what he calls, "an angry play about what happened to these people whose only crime is that they worked hard for decades." It's set in 2014, six weeks before the news broke that thousands of Flint residents had been poisoned.
He says he couldn't write a documentary as investigations are still ongoing.
"I look at Flint, in my home state, and I don’t have a clue as to who did what, who knew what, when. There are people investigating that I’ll be interested to see when the report hits the desk," Daniels said.
So he did what all great writers do: he focused on the people, namely two "normal" Flint couples, one white and one black, living with the consequences of government decisions.
"But what I care about are the people. And that’s what drama can do, that’s what a play can do," Daniels said. "We’re supposed to go on an expedition into the human condition."
He said his characters' stories, like the white manufacturing worker, have been largely ignored.
“We never get to talk to those people. We never see those people. We never hear from those people again. They get lawyers, they don’t get PR firms to handle that," Daniels said.
He hopes audiences will be able to gain a newfound empathy for these characters.
"I just want you talking about it when you get in your car when you go home," Daniels said.
In other words, he said, in the hectic news cycle of the past year, he doesn't want audiences to forget what happened in Flint.
The play will premiere at The Purple Rose Theatre Company, the performing arts center Daniels founded in 1991 in his native Chelsea, from mid-January through March.
Listen above for the full conversation.