Friday, January 29, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 112: Desi Moreno-Penson


Desi Moreno-Penson

Hometown: New York City

Current Town: New York City!!!! Why live anywhere else?

Q:  Tell me about this one person show you're writing.  How did this come about?

A:  It was so weird and beautifully sudden, like so many things in this business...my friend, Jose Yenque is a very talented Latino actor who's been featured in a lot of wonderful films and television shows like, TRAFFIC, THE X-FILES, NIP/TUCK, HEROES, SIX FEET UNDER, among others...we've known each other since the mid-90s when we were both just starting out as actors and we performed in quite a few showcases together here in the city.

Anyway, he was approached by a children's theatre organization out in Los Angeles called Enrichment Works about playing the role of well-known baseball player Roberto Clemente. Enrichment Works specializes in creating one-person shows for kids that are based on the lives of famous, historical figures. Jose really liked the idea of playing such a beloved Latino figure, but there was one snag...the piece hadn't been written yet. When they asked Jose if he knew of any Latino/a playwrights who might be interested in the project, he immediately gave them my name and contact info. The next day, the artistic director for Enrichment Works, Abby Tetenbaum, contacted me by phone...we had a nice, long chat, and that was pretty much it...thanks to the generous referral of my friend, I suddenly had a lovely commission on my hands!

I've been working on the piece since last summer and am now busy with the rewrites on the first draft. Once it's done, and if Jose’s not busy with a film or television show, he will go into rehearsals with a director and then it will be ready to tour...primarily in middle schools and libraries in and around Los Angeles and the Glen Valley region. I'll admit, since I'm not a huge fan of one-person shows, this has been a difficult process for me as a writer, but a great learning experience nonetheless.

Q:  What else are you working on? 

A:  It’s been a great year; my short play, Spirit Sex was produced as part of the 2009 Going to the River Festival at Ensemble Studio Theatre and the same piece has been selected for the next annual short plays anthology published by Smith and Kraus, THE BEST 10-MINUTE PLAYS OF 2010. Then in October, my play, Ghost Light was produced at 59E59 Theatre for a limited run, directed by Jose Zayas. Currently, I've started work on a new play, The Gift Shop of Touch and Roses, and as part of my New Year's resolutions, I'm being much tougher on myself as far as imposing deadlines. So, I'm hoping to be done with the first draft of the play by the end of May. In addition, I am writing two other short plays, as well as trying to turn another play, Screwing Rachel into a fun musical, and another, Devil Land into a novel. Also, I won the BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) Fellowship for Live Performance this past year sponsored by the Bronx Council on the Arts and as part of my final requirement for the very generous grant I received, I will be performing my two monologues, A Latina Prepares and Don’t Knock It Till You Try It at the Bruckner Bar and Grill in the Bronx on Wednesday, February 3rd at 7pm. You can check out the BCA website for all the info, http://www.bronxarts.org/ . I’ve never been there before, but I hear that there’s a lovely performance space in the back AND an art gallery…plus, I hear that the grub in this place is pretty darn good -- I guess we’ll see!

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  I like theatre that is neither pretentious nor elitist, but is immediate, visceral, and deals with the darker issues of the human experience…anger, jealousy, greed, fear, lust, etc. I love stories that will borrow from myths and legends, the supernatural and the paranormal, urban legends…when all’s said and done, I just want an interesting story that features interesting, three-dimensional characters. And I’d prefer that they be in some sort of trouble -- big, big trouble.

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

A:  This is a difficult one for me…I started out as an actor and then went back to grad school and became a playwright, so I’ve really only been writing for about ten years now. In other words, I still feel like I’m actively working towards finding my ‘voice’ as a writer. I think the best and most practical way to answer this question would be to work hard towards finding your ‘thing’ as a playwright and then, just go for it. According to Jason Zinoman’s review of Ghost Light in the New York Times, he wrote, “The playwright Desi Moreno-Penson belongs to a new generation of theater artists reared on a diet of vampires, zombies and charming serial killers. Call this movement the Theater of Blood.”  Now, I personally LOVED being called out like that (I thought it was cool)…but at the same time, it was weird for me, too, since it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I started as a playwright…but so what? If my ‘process’ appears to be moving me into creepier dramatic territory, I’m not going to fight it. In fact, as a writer, I’m genuinely curious and very excited to see where it takes me. Fact is, I’m a huge horror film buff and I LOVE a good scary story!

Q:  Plugs please: 

A:  I’ve just recently seen Sexual Healing by Jonathan Leaf over at the Mint Theatre and I enjoyed it very much, and I’m now very much looking forward to seeing Teaser Cow by Clay McLeod Chapman.

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