Hometown: I was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and grew up in Brooklyn, Virginia, India, Thailand and Singapore.
Current Town: Brooklyn, New York
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve just completed a new draft of THE KARPOVSKY VARIATIONS, a dark comedy about the diaspora of an American Jewish family, set mostly in airports. It was workshopped at The Playwrights’ Center, and I’m continuing to develop it with The New Group.
I’m also writing a play for Theatre Novi Most in Minneapolis, about the marriage of American dance pioneer Isadora Duncan and Russian poet Sergei Esenin. Novi Most has gotten funding to develop the piece and will present a workshop in November.
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 love this question, since so much of who I am as a playwright stems from my childhood. When I was about five, my mother took me to a production of THE FLOWER DRUM SONG. During one of the numbers (I realize now it was “I Enjoy Being a Girl”), this actress sat alone on stage in front of her mirror, wearing only a slip. Seeing a scantily-dressed young woman on stage was a strange and exciting experience, so I loudly blurted out, “Mommy, why is that woman taking off her clothes?” Instantly, this electrical energy surged through the room – it was the audience laughing at what I’d said! I was amazed by the way this energy had a life of its own that was bigger than the individuals sitting there. The experience hooked me on the unique power of live theatre.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I’d wave a magic wand, and change the entrenched “second-hander” nature of many institutional theatres and play development companies. Instead of companies looking for playwrights that other companies think are hot or commercial, theatres would simply look for plays that spoke to them in some fundamental way. It would mean, of course, theatres would have to read more scripts (relying far less on gate-keepers at other institutions). But if a few more companies had the courage to trust their own gut, it would transform the American theatrical landscape.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Anton Chekhov, for his complex love of people and nature, and the unique way that he conjures that love in the hearts and minds of audiences. Lorraine Hansberry and Tennessee Williams I admire for similar reasons, as well as for their outsized hearts and superhuman courage. My graduate school playwriting teacher, Howard Stein, who urged his students to fight for their idiosyncrasies; and taught them to ask, “Why did I need to write this play?” The theatre designer Robert Edmond Jones, for his visionary idealism, and for reminding us that theatre is not a thing of logic, it’s a thing of emotion. Thornton Wilder, for his insight into the group mind of the audience and his brave willingness to experiment with the audience – and for writing the third act of OUR TOWN.
And: Actors, too numerous to name, who stay open to letting a role transform them in ways they know they can’t preconceive. That definitely requires heroic daring.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Any kind of theatre – from a “well-made play” to an anti-dramatic performance piece – where the audience is collectively surprised and/or moved and/or exalted, and which depends on an imaginative collaboration with the audience. (I’m also greatly excited by poetry and belly-laughs in theatre).
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I have to defer to Horton Foote (whose writing is nothing like mine!), who told a group of young playwrights, “Find out who you are as a writer, and never let fashion sway you from that.” I’d also advise reading hundreds of plays, watching hundreds of plays – and watching audiences.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: For the latest on my work, please check out my website. My one-act plays are widely available in print, including five editions of BEST AMERICAN SHORT PLAYS.