Oct 27, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 273: Adam Rapp
Hometown: Joliet. Illinois
Current Town: New York City
Q: Tell me about Ghosts in the Cottonwoods.
A: It’s a play I wrote fifteen years ago. My first full-length. I had no idea what I was doing. It was written on impulse, kind of out of the dark. It was overwrought, overblown with too much self-consciously poetic dialogue, but something about the play has haunted me and I knew I would return to it. Some months ago I pulled it out, looked at it closely, and re-worked it. It seemed like a really good fit for the Amoralists, their style, their mission. I didn’t care for early productions of the play, but mostly I didn’t care for the play. I’m incredibly excited to have this new experience with it. The company is incredibly brave. They kill me every day in rehearsal. Some of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. I’m having a blast. The play is about a single mother and her 20-year-old son who are awaiting the arrival of the older son, who has broken out of prison. They live in a homemade house that is sliding down a hill in a nowhere forested region in the southern Midwest, somewhere between the interstate and the factory outlets. They’ve created their own government of language and their own brutal codes of morality. A stranger shows up, as does the younger son’s girlfriend. And all hell breaks loose.
Q: This isn't the first time you've directed your own work. What do you learn about your plays by directing them?
A: Well, I love directing – all facets of it. But I particularly love working with actors. My plays get better when I direct them because I become a rigorous dramaturg and I care that the audience is involved in every moment. I think the rehearsal process has become an incredibly fertile rewriting and discovery process that I wouldn’t experience if I was simply the defensive playwright in the room protecting his play. I’m not precious with my words or moments. I’m all about finding what works. I try to have fun. I demand a lot from my actors, and they demand a lot from me and I love that these are the stakes.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I’m rewriting a novel called THE CHILDREN AND THE WOLVES for Candlewick Press, and I’m preparing for my Hallway Trilogy, which starts rehearsals after the new year.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I was raised Catholic. In church I used to daydream. I would fall in love with one girl during mass. I would imagine our lives together, our kids, the car in the garage, tornadoes, cows flying through the air, getting shipped off to war, getting my leg cut off, being chased by the FBI. Church was where I started making things up, started living in my head. For me, I think that’s where the impulse to write started.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Government legislated 20-dollar tickets. Including Broadway.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Caryl Churchill, Pinter, John Guare, Edward Bond, Chekhov, Genet, Beckett, Irene Fornes, David Rabe.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: The kind in which I am surprised by deft hard actions, the kind that trusts ambiguity and mystery, the kind that haunts and disturbs me. I hate leaving a play feeling resolved and entertained. I want to be shaken by something. I want to be made to forget that I was actually in a theater.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don’t wait for someone’s stamp of approval. Start making work in your living room. Waiting is death. Figure out how to make something work in a room with a window and a door. Maybe add a phone.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: “Gatz” by Elevator Repair Service is incredible. The National’s record “High Violet.” Café Mogador on St. Mark’s Place.