Thursday, June 04, 2009
I interview playwrights part 2: Anna Ziegler
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Q: Tell me a little about the play you have going up at Cherry Lane.
A: Dov and Ali follows the changing relationship between a Jewish high school teacher (Dov) and his Muslim student (Ali). Unfortunately, it's not a racy teacher-student romance. (Sorry, lovers of Notes on a Scandal'—and I am in your ranks, I assure you.) In this play, the two men help each other come to some important decisions regarding faith and love. The catalysts for these decisions are Dov's non-Jewish girlfriend, Sonya, whom he’s been hiding from his parents, and who all of a sudden wants to make their relationship more serious, and Ali's sister, Sameh, to whom something has happened that Ali can't discuss. Over the course of the play, these situations are blown wide open, forcing the men to reconsider everything they held dear.
Q: This play was just done in London. Were you able to go see it? What was that like? How were their American accents?
A: I actually was able to go over to London last summer for the entirety of the rehearsal period. I had a blast. The whole rehearsal process felt a little more laid back than I've been accustomed to over here -- until tech, that is, when there are only two days allotted to adding all the design elements into the play, as opposed to the luxurious three days that are typical over here. Getting to work with a British director and British actors on a play about a Jewish schoolteacher from Detroit was as fascinating and strange an experience as you would imagine it was. It was very different than working on the same play in New York. And their accents were great! It was funny to be there while the actors struggled with certain words. Just as there will always be one line that an actor gets wrong, there was one word each actor couldn't help but speak in a British accent.
Q: How did you come to write this play?
A: This play came from a number of places. First, I was teaching Lord of the Flies to my high school English class, as Dov is at the top of the play. I was working at a Jewish day school outside of Washington DC and was around a greater number of religious people than I ever had been. Inevitably, I began to question things based on the experiences of my colleagues and students. How are we supposed to handle situations in which things we want directly conflict with what our religion is telling us to do or be? Like Sonya, the non-religious character in the play, I started seeing religion as not simply something that comforts people in times of need and reassures us when we fear death, but as a source of difficulty and confusion. Particularly in the post 9/11 years, it seemed pertinent to write a play that questions the value of religion -- without, I hope, deriding it or those who choose to live by its rules.
Q: What are some of your other plays about?
A: All my plays are pretty different. I've got a play that's an adaptation of the Greek myth of Theseus and Ariadne, called The Minotaur; a play about Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who helped discover the double helix but whose work (controversially) was stolen by Watson and Crick; a play called Variations on a Theme about the aftermath of a break-up of a young couple in New York, among others...All my plays seem, however, to deal in some way with loss, forgiveness and the question of love's ability to endure.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I love theater that plays with language and creates worlds on stage that aren't quite naturalistic but aren't completely magical either -- lyrical places where realistic events or everyday matters take on new, heightened meaning. This is why I love Sarah Ruhl's work, Melissa Gibson's work, Rinne Groff's work. Anne Washburn's work. A totally incomplete list but those are the folks that popped to mind.
Q: Are there any plays up right now that you would recommend people go see?
A: Ruined. The Amish Project. The Norman Conquests. Others I haven't seen but want to: Night Sky, Our Town, Mary Stuart, Exit the King, The Dishwashers, West Side Story, Next to Normal, Into the Hazard, The EST Marathon...
Q: Where can people go to buy tickets to your play?