Apr 26, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 345: Mona Mansour
Hometown: San Diego, but I try to keep that on the down-low.
Current Town: Manhattan and Brooklyn, mostly.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m about to step into two projects with NYU’s graduate acting program. Mark Wing-Davey has been an advocate of mine over there (we met when he directed a reading of my play for the Public’s Emerging Writers Group). The first is a piece I’ll write for the third-year acting students, using the Joint Stock method. I know very little of their actual process, so it’s cool to hear about it from Mark, who created Mad Forest with Caryl Churchill this way. The second project is based on the lives of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and Chechan human rights worker Natalia Estimorova. A small group of actresses have been generating material, and now Jim Calder, who is directing, has brought in me and Carson Kreitzer. The material is fascinating, but the stories, grim. The Middle East, where I’ve been creatively the last few years, feels like a fucking carnival in comparison.
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 wish I could answer something different here, because this has been played out for me—but I’d have to say the Patricia Hearst saga, as it unfolded. It had everything—a kidnapping, a bank robbery, and most importantly, a very public change of identity: the transformation of a young woman from heiress to kidnap victim to urban guerrilla. The moment the “Tania” audiotapes emerged, with Patty telling her parents they were corporate pigs, my seven-year-old jaw dropped.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I’d up the pay scale for everyone. A friend, a really fine actor who works a ton in TV, just finished telling me he had to turn down a play—at a prestigious venue in New York!—because he has kids to support, and can’t afford to do it for the pre-tax nine-hundred bucks a week. It doesn’t make sense to me that the freelance publishing gigs I do pay more than a full-time acting gig.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I don’t want to overthink this, so in no particular order: Caryl Churchill, Ibsen, Thornton Wilder, Chita Rivera, the founders of Second City and the Groundlings; and many of the teachers I had.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: All kinds. I like to be surprised. Moved. The last thing I went crazy for was Christopher Durang’s Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, which the Public did a couple years ago. He made an exploration of extradition and torture funny! Sick, funny, and totally relevant.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Noor Theatre is a company of three excellent women—Maha Chehlaoui, Lameece Issaq, and Nancy Vitale. Their mission is to feature writers of Middle East descent. They are doing great work. Support!