Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 132: Francine Volpe


Francine Volpe



Hometown:   Queens. Home of the badass. Joey Ramone, Donald Trump, Johnny Thunders, John McEnroe, Salt N Pepa, and Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

Current Town:   Brooklyn. About two and a half miles from where I grew up.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Turgor. It’s the rigidity that gives a plant its shape. A backbone, if you will. The play is about Larissa, a young-ish woman with a special needs child. She goes on a date, her first in a long time, and has a teenage boy babysit the little girl.

We learn that the boy is the son of Larissa’s former counselor - a man rumored to be a cad and with whom Larissa was infatuated with as a teenager.  The next day, Larissa confronts the boy, claiming that her autistic child communicated to her, non-verbally, that she was molested.  The boy’s father, her former counselor, then shows up to talk Larissa out of pressing charges.

During the course of the play one should change their mind about what happened during the night in question and whether the mess is the fault of the angry teenager, his emotionally irresponsible father, Larissa’s one-night stand who turns out to have a murky past, or Larissa herself who may or may not suffer from a form of Munchhausen’s.

The play is called Turgor, because I think when you behave in a way that is immature (and by immature I mean evil) I think it feels like you are protecting who you are. And you are. You are protecting yourself from changing. So, for example, a man will justify cheating on his spouse because he had to “listen to his heart”. Or a woman will drive her family into the ground with some form of addiction and later explain that her domestic life just wasn’t “who she was”. I’ve been around enough two-year-olds to know that grabbing another kid’s toy must feel like a matter of life or death to them. I don’t think they negotiate between wanting to please their mother and wanting the toy. I think it is between wanting to please their mother and wanting to retain a semblance of autonomy, a sense of self.

Hopefully audiences will vacillate with Larissa between the feeling that she must be unbending against forces that conspire to destroy her and the fear that her rigidity, her unwillingness to grow is, and has always been, the source of her anguish.

Q:  You were the Lit Mgr for the very cool Off Broadway theater Studio Dante. What was that like?

A:  It was a privilege. An invaluable experience. For a long time I was the only staff member so I got to be involved in all aspects of bringing a play to fruition from development through opening night which informed my own work tremendously. We only produced new plays so there was a hell of a learning curve. Plus Victoria and Michael Imperioli (The Artistic Directors of SD) are the two most generous people I know. I learned from them.

Q:  What else are you up to? Are you teaching?

A:  I am teaching. I teach playwriting and screenwriting at Space On White (a very pleasant studio). I’m especially excited about the screenwriting classes. Every week I ask students to watch a brilliant film and a bad film. In class I show samples from the great film to demonstrate technique. Then I show comparable samples from the bad film. This demonstration makes it very difficult to write bad dialogue or flimsy characters.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Plays that demonstrate what we don’t have the vocabulary to explain.

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

A:  Learn how to write an old-fashioned story. I spent a decade working very hard to avoid this step. That was a mistake.  Also, love your peers. Be as generous and supportive to the playwrights around you as you possibly can. When things go badly for you they’re the only ones who return your phone calls.

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