Jun 7, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 189: Gregory Moss
photo: peter bellamy
Hometown: Newburyport MA.
Current Town: No fixed address.
Q: Tell me about your play coming up this fall.
A: There’s two coming up, both directed by the fantastically skilled Ms. Sarah Benson.
The first is called Orange, Hat & Grace which will be at Soho Rep in September. It’s about a older woman sorting out her biography, putting her house in order as she approaches the end of her life - doing some imaginative gymnastics to come up with a narrative, a version of her life that she can be at peace with. I don’t want to be coy about it, but, despite the weight of that description, it’s actually pretty funny and lively. I wrote a part for Matt Maher in the play, because I think he’s fantastic, and we were lucky enough to get him for the production.
The other will be at Woolly Mammoth in DC in November, and that one’s called House of Gold. House of Gold is a play about JonBenét Ramsey in the underworld.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: Lots of fun things – a loose adaptation of Marivaux’s La Dispute, the first draft of which is just about done; a play for children called Benny Glasgow: The Worst Kid Alive! which is a play about the worst kid alive; and a kind of ungainly, research-heavy project, about the rise and fall of Hippie utopianism, 2nd and 3rd wave feminism, the pill, Karen Carpenter, Patty Hearst, Charlie Manson and the economy of hitchhiking in America. Cultural history recast as a kind of road movie/afterschool special…we’ll see how that goes…
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: What comes to mind is, my parents had this Emmet Kelly doll up in the attic. When I was a kid. Emmett Kelly was the archetypal sad hobo clown, and this doll scared the shit out of me. At night, I was certain I heard it, up in the attic, moving around, pushing cardboard boxes out of the way so he could get out, come down stairs, and kill me. This nightly anxiety sparked a deep seated fear of clowns, dolls and ventriloquist dummies. Then, in 2008, for a class at Brown, I got a ventriloquist dummy, over the internet. I learned how to throw my voice a bit, and made up some routines to perform with the dummy, who I named Andy. I started sleeping in the same room with him, leaving him seated on my dresser, facing my direction, so I would see him as I fell asleep, and when I woke up in the morning. That’s the shape of it, how I write, pretty much.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I wouldn’t change anything. I think we finally got it exactly right.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: For playwrights, Wallace Shawn, Maria Irene Fornes, and Anton Chekhov are my gods. I love Paula Vogel, too, of course…a bunch of Davids - David Greenspan, David Adjmi and David Hancock. Nicky Silver’s Pterodactyls was a big influence early on, as was Charles Busch.
Closer to home are my immediate mentors and peers – Bonnie Metzgar, Ann Marie Healy, Dan LeFranc, and Cory Hinkle.
I have a closeted and increasingly grudging respect for David Mamet, though as he enters his sunset years he’s become the abusive father of the American theater.
My favorite artist, though, who I look to for a kind of blue print as to what an artist’s life should be like, is Lou Reed. Not cause I like everything he’s done – I don’t – but he’s consistently changed up his process and approach, with every project. He works in interstitial areas - queer and straight, blunt and oblique, high brow and low, street and academic, obscure and populist, spiritual and obscene. He’s hugely prolific, and wildly inconsistent. He’s built up and then blown his reputation over and over again, and I like that, that someone’s willing to completely fall on their face every time out in order to follow through on a creative idea.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Weird plays. Voices that haven’t been completely retarded or neutralized by TV. Stuff that’s impossible. By which I mean, plays that take us somewhere that we could not visit except through means of this play. I can easily go over to my friends house, hang out in his kitchen, watch his mom and dad fight, etc. etc. etc. It’s actually less interesting on stage than it is in real life. It’s like people who like to play race car video games, or create online identities that are just as boring as their real life identities. People who go to plays to check out the furniture. I like plays that address real human conundrums – not total abstraction - but I like to see it done in an idiosyncratic and imaginative way.
Gatz does this, somehow, and Telethon last summer did it, and Sleep No More did it at the ART last fall, all in very different ways. It’s not about genre – I’ll go see any kind of play – it’s more about creating a unique, unsummarizible event that has some lingering human fingerprints on it.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Over and above technique, which is teachable and learnable, all you’ve got as a writer is your unique chemistry and point of view. It doesn’t matter if you like it, if you think it’s good or bad, or how it compares to what anyone else is doing – this way of processing the world and putting it into writing is YOURS and you’re stuck with it (or blessed with it). The playwright you are is already decided. So, rather than bemoaning your shortcomings, spend your time working on finding better ways to value, excavate, and generously present, what you’ve already got. Be rigorous, be disciplined, follow through.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Orange, Hat and Grace previews at Soho Rep September 16, opens September 23.
House of Gold opens November 1 at Woolly Mammoth.
I think people should also go see the Clubbed Thumb Summerworks shows - they look great. And Madeline George’s 13 P show, The Zero Hour – go see that too.