Friday, September 11, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 52: David Johnston

David Johnston

Hometown: Born in Lexington, KY. But I only lived there until I was a few weeks old. Then I became restless and moved to Richmond, Virginia.

Current Town: New York City

Q: Tell me about "Effie Jean," the play you have going up right now.

 A: I’ve always been a big fan of Charles Ludlam. And he wrote a children’s play called “The Enchanted Pig.” He mashed up a lot of Shakespeare’s King Lear with fairy tales and Hollywood B movies, and I’ve always thought it was hilarious. But it did make me think over the years. Just take some Chaucer or Homer or Boccaccio or Shakespeare, history, mythology – mix ‘em up – and come up with something new for kids. Rather than another goddamn adaptation of “Velveteen Rabbit.” So “Effie Jean in Tahiti” is a loose adaptation of Euripides’ “Iphigenia In Tauris” crossed with “Twelfth Night” – and Bugs Bunny, The Simpsons, Abbott and Costello, the Muppets and “Valley of the Dolls.” And songs.

Q: Based on your past work, of which I am a fan, I would not immediately think of you as someone who would write a play for children. How did this come about?

A: I get that a lot. But here’s the idea. I have great nieces and great nephews now and I realized at some point there was no show I’d ever written which would be suitable for them to see for twenty years. And this Ludlam/”Enchanted Pig” idea was always rattling around in the back of my head. I’d also done a lot of research for the adaptation of “Oresteia” a few years ago, and I loved the idea of kind of the magical happy flip side of the House of Atreus. At the core, the intersection of the Euripides Iphigenia and Twelfth Night is a magical reunion between siblings, siblings who thought the other was dead or gone forever. I did “Twelfth Night” a few times as an actor and that part always affected me. Like Scrooge’s second chance.

Q: Can you talk a little about Blue Coyote? You've worked with them a bunch. What should my readers know about them?

A: Your readers should know that Blue Coyote is composed of blood - thirsty zombies, and if your readers are talented playwrights, they should stay the hell away from my producers. I’m kidding. They’re not zombies. It’s hard for me to talk objectively about those guys. We’ve done about seven or eight projects together. They’ve produced my plays, written songs for them, directed them, acted in them, run out and bought toilet paper, made copies, moved the bench in a black out, walked the cast up the Bowery because there was no room to change at the Marquee, and bought me a round ‘cause I was broke. We’re good friends, they've taken care of me during one of the worst periods of my life, we fight, we make up, they do fantastic work, and I can’t really imagine where I would be if I had not met them.

Q: What are you working on next?

A: I was getting nowhere on some other projects a few months ago. So I said, screw it, I’ll be Suzan Lori Parks and just write a one-act every day. After about two weeks I realized every one act I’d written took place in Coney Island. So I guess that’s my next play.

 Q: Do you think Matt Freeman is a robot?

A: I know this is controversial, but I don’t think Matt Freeman is a robot. But I do believe he and I are genetically linked – brothers, actually. Matt Freeman is my genetic ‘younger’ brother – which is why I have a great need to torture him, lock him in closets, call him a queer, make him cry and tell him Mom and Dad didn’t really want him.

Q: Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a person or as a writer.

A: When I was a little kid, I told my mother I wanted to be a housewife. Then, later I told her I wanted to be an undertaker. Seriously. And Mom and Dad were great, I would come up with these things, and they would say, well let’s get some brochures and read up on it. This weird little kid, reading brochures from the local community college about mortuary science. I think I just had this idea that if I were an undertaker, I would wear pinstripe suits and have a grave expression and people would take me seriously. So I guess that explains who I am now - some sort of death-obsessed homosexual. But really I’m just gay and not particularly death-obsessed.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: The kind that doesn’t bore the crap out of me.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

 A: Don’t sit around talking about writing. Write.

 Info for David's show here:

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