Jul 18, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 213: Anna Kerrigan
photo by Amy Wadsworth
Hometown: I was born in San Francisco but moved to Los Angeles when I was one.
Current Town: New York City
Q: Tell me about The Talls.
A: The Talls is a play about the Clarkes, an extremely tall family living in the Oakland Hills in 1970. Just as the family patriarch, Mr. Clarke, launches his campaign for City Comptroller, the family receives news that Mrs. Clarke’s best friend has been severely injured in an automobile accident. Isabelle, the eldest sister, and Mr. Clarke’s new campaign manager, Russell, are left to take care of the house and the three younger siblings while their parents sit at the hospital. A Brown University bound graduating senior and hopeless hippy, Isabelle maximizes her brief freedom by seducing Russell. The Talls takes place over 24 hours.
The Talls was inspired by my mother’s enormously tall family. She’s the eldest and shortest of seven kids who range in height from 5’9” to 6’11”. I have this one aunt who’s 6’2” who worked at Saks Fifth Avenue when I was a kid and at the time I just thought that was the most awesome thing ever – but as I got older and started looking around I realized that most women never get that tall and it must be pretty hard. I am fascinated with the idea of this gargantuan and physically freaky family attempting to fit in and gain acceptance in a community where everyone wants to be normal. Apart from the height issue, the fact that they live in the same place that my family did, and that they’re Catholic – well, apart from all that the family doesn’t really resemble my actual family that much.
My wonderful friend Peter Cook directed a reading of The Talls recently for Bloodworks, Youngblood’s reading series. We were both pretty psyched afterwards and people seemed to really dig it.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: The big thing that has been monopolizing my life in a wonderful way for the past year, is my first feature film, Roost – which just wrapped in late May.
Here’s the blurb from my website about it:
“Camden is thrilled to meet Alice, the half sister she never knew. In an effort to bond, the sisters and their significant others take a trip to Lionshead, the family estate in Massachusetts. Tensions build and ultimately explode over a week in the country.”
I wrote and directed the film as well as played one of the four leads. We shot in the Berkshires at this amazing two hundred year old estate that was donated to the production by my wonderful friend Cathy Deely. We had a tremendous amount of support up there – it was a low budget production and everyone was really generous with us. Bar owners would literally just hand us the keys to their establishments and walk away – the Red Lion Inn donated a cottage for our actors – everyone was cutting us deals right and left. It was a real contrast to working in New York where if you’re a film crew everyone’s first impulse is to hate you.
Our crew was amazing, our cast was amazing (Austin Lysy, Brooke Bloom, Sam Rosen, Darren Goldstein, Ned Noyes, Peter Cook…) - now that I’m editing and looking at all these peoples faces every day I am really appreciating their performances.
I’m also working on another play called Paradigm from California - it’s set in Berkeley, California in 1984. It’s about a half baked but well-meaning, amateur philosopher in his forties and his relationships with his teenage protégés. During a brief stint as a high school teacher, he met these two lost kids who look to him as a sort of father figure. When the play picks up they’ve been living together for quite some time and have written a 500 page political/philosophical/bullshit manifesto and are waiting to hear back from publishing companies. His sexual relationship with one of the kids begins to fracture their small “family” – while his world falls apart, the teenage kids have a real coming of age.
I’m also working on a TV Pilot set in Los Angeles where I grew up and incubating another play set in Asheville, North Carolina.
Q: Tell me about Jack Fish Films.
A: Jack Fish Films is my production company.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: This is a personal story that I find funny, tragic and compelling.
When I was in Kindergarten my Dad was working in Germany on a movie and my mom, my sister and I were living in my paternal Grandmother’s house in Reseda, California. Even though my grandmother was a bit of a grouch and I’m sure my mother had quite a time dealing with her, my sister and I loved living there because there was this huge yard with eucalyptus trees where we would find salamanders and play with rabbits and chickens that escaped from our neighbors’ places. Another joy of the backyard was Uncle Harold’s house – he literally lived in a shack that he furnished with a lot of Army Navy Surplus stuff. He was a vet, loved to watch Bonanza and basically just sat in his little shack smoking and drinking all day long and watching television. For a kid, it was a fun place to hang out because it was like a miniature house and Uncle Hal kept root beer in the fridge for our visits. My sister Lily and I would go to his place, open a root beer and then draw on his bare back. He’d sit watching TV shirtless, we drew a line down the center of his back, I took one side and Lily took the other and we’d draw cartoon dogs and funny faces and landscapes and whatever we wanted to. This was always the highlight of our day.
Eventually, we moved out of Grandma’s house – she developed Alzheimer’s and turned into a completely different person – and we moved into our own house in Chatsworth, which was even deeper into the San Fernando valley. A year or so into living there, my Uncle Hal came over to hang out with us and I found myself very shy around him. It suddenly struck me that he was a pretty sad dude. He sat down on one of our lawn chairs – he was extremely heavy and unhealthy at this point - and complained about his feet aching. One of my parents suggested that I massage his feet (I was really into massages as a child) and I blurted out “No!”. He looked at me with such hurt and rejection – I felt terrible but stubbornly refused to change my mind.
This memory nicely distills a few things that my writing tends to include: lonely, and misunderstood characters, strange families, perverted sweetness and the push and pull between empathy and repulsion for the people and places a character comes from.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would make it cheaper.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I feel like I’m just starting out! Be patient, open but not dependent on feedback, and get a low stakes day job.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: If you want updates about Roost you can go to my website www.jackfishfilms.com or join my Roost facebook page.
Also, if you’re out in Martha’s Vineyard this summer, go see my boyfriend Sam Forman’s play “The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall” at Vineyard Playhouse (July 22nd-August 7th). Sam, who has seen the play performed twice now (once in DC and once in New York) is playing the lead role himself this time. When I was running lines with him, he kept freaking me out with his good acting. There’s really no one like that guy …