Saturday, July 02, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 365: Warren Manzi
Hometown: Methuen, MA
Q: Tell me about Perfect Crime. The play is celebrating 24 years and almost 10,000 performances in New York. Did you ever suspect that would be the case when you wrote it?
A: I always wanted Perfect Crime to be a commercial thriller but I didn’t know it would take off the way it did. I knew that all the rewrites when it first opened strengthened the core of the play. We’ve gained a lot by all the work we’ve done along the way.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Several things at once. Two new stage thrillers are finished and several screenplays are being shopped.
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 mother is my greatest influence because when I was very young she used to read all kinds of mysteries. There were always mystery books around the house. At a young age I read Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes. I became interested in drama in high school and decided to put the two of those things together.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Lately there’s too much emphasis on commerciality which has a tendency to create superficiality. I’m very interested in substance. Over the past fifteen or twenty years, maybe even longer, the emphasis has been on flash instead of substance.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Shakespeare is number one. Chekhov, Moliere, Ibsen, Strindberg. Pinter, Tennessee Williams and Pirandello. I’m a huge fan of John Osborne and Tom Stoppard is a genius.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that challenges and never panders to the audience yet doesn’t leave them behind. I like plays that take you through a story and keep you on the edge of your seat and on your toes. That’s the most exciting kind of theater to me. For instance, I’ve seen and read King Lear a million times. If I were to re-read it or see a good production of it, I’d still be thrilled by it. It’ll still be as though I’m reading it or seeing it for the first time.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: It’s a combination of discipline for the writing process and an ability to speak from your heart, from what you feel – of developing a story from what you feel, your past experiences, but at the same time having discipline. Go back to the classics and study them. Why do the plays we consider classic still work? What about them excites you?
I taught high school seniors once and I gave them several plays to choose from as an assignment. They chose Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. We spent the first two months discussing Hamlet, which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is based on, and by the time we got to the Stoppard play they were already excited by Hamlet. They became very excited and very successful for that reason. So, look to the classics.
Q: Plugs, please.
A: Go see Perfect Crime!