Jan 19, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 305: Honor Molloy
Hometown: Dublin, Ireland
Current Town: Brooklyn
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Promotion. Creating scripts for performances of pieces from Smarty Girl--an autobiographical novel about my Dublin childhood. I spent the past six years fully focused on completing this manuscript so at this point, I can't even spell the word theatre. (Is it theater, or theatre, darling?) In the old days, I attended about five theatrical events a week. These days? Three in a month is a monster month.
Now that I'm done with the first stage of the book, I plan on posting several performance pieces from it on UTube. The idea is to do spoken word on radio as well as live performance as often as possible.
Perhaps in February I will have some time to return to playwriting. I aim to do a final revision on autodelete--a play about September 11th that I started in March 2002. The new version is called 10 Years and will reflect my vision of the play rather than producers and / or literary managers who were not interested in producing my play but felt compelled to tell me what was wrong with it.
I attended NYU Graduate Acting Program way back in the early 1980s. They have a wonderful monthly workshop for Graduate Acting Alumni who are developing writing projects. I will develop the new script in this safe environment with some mighty fine actors.
Q: How does writing fiction compare to writing plays?
A: When writing plays, the last piece of the puzzle for me is the structure. It has always been the beast of burden as well as the gift of each play. I find I write autobiographically even when composing a play about 18th Century England so there’s that initial difficulty in figuring out what is going on under the under of the subject matter. This can lead to delays. A divorce in a play has precipitated a divorce in real life.
I work with characters drawn from history, ie: the Grimke Sisters, Queen Victoria, corsets, Brandon Teena - Teena Brandon (the gender outlaw murdered in Nebraska during the final hours of 1992), Lord Horatio Nelson - Vice Admiral of the Blue. And I revel in research. My plays often take a while to complete on the page. The actual structure of the play usually reflects the theatrical and / cultural constructs of the era in which its set. For example: Madame Killer is set in Manhattan during 1878. It’s a shameless and flagrant melodrama with such added flourishes as a live pianist and female pugilists. I started Madame Killer in 1990 and didn’t complete the script until Clubbed Thumb produced it in 2005. The plays are not done until they are produced. Unfortunately, I have a pile of unfinished plays.
That sort of frustration drove me to fiction where I thought I’d be in control. And that things would go more quickly. A laugh. It took twelve years altogether. Three huge drafts. And like the plays, structure came last. I don’t know why I obsess about the time it took to write the book, but it was so much more intensive. The equivalent of writing thirty plays. Many of the stories can stand alone. I suppose that’s why they can be performed. I suppose that because they can be performed, they have their own structural integrity—just like a play.
I stole from my playwriting all the way through. Playwriting made the dialogue easy. Made this a lean, muscular book with a driving action that pulls a reader straight through to the end.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: My first full-length starts with a woman arriving at a maternity hospital with a dead fetus inside her. She’s been badly beaten by her husband. Many of my plays repeat some version of this scene. It is the climax of my book. When I was a child my father beat my mother. I have no recollection of this. I write to regain my memory. I write to understand. War begins in living rooms. Stop the war.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Caryl Churchill, Eva Le Gallienne, Samuel Beckett,
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Physical theatre first. Big-fat-theatrical, savage and raucous theatre that takes up space. A woman with a microphone and a spotlight—a button accordion heaving beside her. She is just riffing with lingo. Then the song starts. A standard. It is magic. I love down-and-dirty vulgar comedy. Wordplay. Love wordplay.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Read, read, read. Go to plays at all stages of production, take acting classes--they are the best playwriting courses, intern with a theatre company, learn what it takes to produce a play, produce your friends’ plays, produce yourself, make mayhem.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Smarty Girl UTubes: Sixpence the Stars and Up Went Nelson. I’ll be performing at the 45th Commemoration of the Destruction of Nelson’s Pillar at the Dublin City Archive on March 7th.