Hometown: Lawrence, New York, one of the "Five Towns" - the others are Inwood, Cedarhurst, Woodmere and Hewlett. Johnny Drama stars in a show about them on Entourage, directed by Ed Burns. They are a punchline on that show and kind of a punchline in my life. The joke was on me as a kid but as I am now middle aged, I often find myself dreaming of the pizza places and record stores of my youth. I set the new play there, part of it anyway, and give a shout out to Friendlier, a real pizza place. I was in Friendlier in Woodmere when the Challenger exploded.
Current Town: Makin' Money Manhattan (I'm making no money)
Q: Tell me about Revenge and Guilt.
A: It's a romance. Guy meets girl. Guy sleeps with girl. Girl steals guys watch. Guy meets girl again. Girl (not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, mind) convinces the guy to confront his demons which is in this case, a guitar teacher who deeply scarred him in 1993. As it's very, very easy to find people from the past these days, they track the now aged guy down (think the Don Ciccio scene in Godfather 2) and mete out vengeance. She has ulterior motives of course. She is not who she seems to be. Mayhem ensues. There's a lot of sex and violence and pop references, it's kind of a throwback in that case to my older plays but I could not have written this at 28. It takes a middle aged man with a little humility to pull some of this off. It also marks the first time I'm directing one of my own plays after about a dozen produced Off Off. Again, I'm old now and if not now, when. It's so personal and there are only three actors so i figured why not? I saw a Woody Allen doc. where he said if you wrote it and surround yourself with good people then why can't you direct and that hit home.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I am writing a story for the New York Times on punk film, the good ones and the bad ones, and I am finishing up a book on an aesthetic that some people call Twee and others call... Indie when they are trying not to offend people who are twee. It starts post War (Disney's feature films, Salinger, Seuss, Dean, Capote) and goes all the way up to New Girl. An epic. I am also working on not being suicidally depressed. That's a bit easier than writing a big book. They have pills now. The book will be out in the second half of 2014 from IT Books/Harper Collins. It's my eighth book. I released a memoir in February called Poseur: A Memoir of Downtown New York in the 90s, which took me three years to write and might have contributed to the above mentioned suicidal depression. I also wrote Revenge during this period.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Well much of it is covered in the memoir, I mentioned above but Revenge in particular stems from a real incident. You know I never wanted to be a rock critic which is how I made and still sometimes make my living. I wanted to be a rock star. But I was unlucky when it came to teachers (yes, I blame them not my utter lack of natural talent). My piano teacher would not teach me the piano riff to "Rock the Casbah" and when I went to learn the drums I was basically told that I was uncoordinated and asked if I was "good at sports?" The implication being I was an utter physical reject-o. So there's a bit of me in Cal. I've never forgotten those lessons and in moments I wonder what could have been had I a more impatient instructor (or one who was a Clash fan). It's why there's power in this play whereas some of the recent ones I've done seem more like larks. There's painful truth in it. About regret, getting older, realizing things you will never be. And coming to accept what you are, which when you scour away the anger and regret, is most of the time, not so bad at all.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Rentals would be cheaper for young playwrights. When I began doing plays on the Lower East Side in the late 1990s, if a producer like Aaron Beall liked your play or your coat, he would give you his space and split the door with you. He would also champion you and mentor you. I think that's just about gone with this sanitized, new LES. And all the small theaters are now in Brooklyn but I am a romantic about downtown theater in Manhattan (makin no money). It's why I like the Kraine where we are now. You can smell the history there. And sometimes fish.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I always wanted to write Burn This. Not be Lanford Wilson per se but to have written Burn This. Burn This by Marc Spitz. I've re read it recently as I've read the Forced Entries by Jim Carroll and neither are as good as I remember but when I was young and hungry they fired me up. Also Durang. Nicky Silver. Orton. Pinter. Rabe. Kushner. Albee. Shepard obviously. I once saw him at the Washington Square Park dog run walking a large black poodle. Kushner for different reasons. I love reading him and respect his ambition but I know I can never touch him. Whereas I like pretending I have a chance at the others. Hero worship at my age is bad anyway. I want to be a hero myself. You know that piece of Christopher Street in front of the Lucille Lortel with all the stars? I think they just gave Neil LaBute one. There are a lot of blank stars left. I want one of those stars. And until I get one, I am happy to let my two basset hounds pee on them. Especially on LaBute. I will say
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I am no fan of the avant garde. I like loud, ,violent, darkly funny plays. I tried to see a Robert Wilson play once and a bunch of stuff at PS 122 and I just shift and feel like I'm back in math class.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Go to Brooklyn I guess? Or Queens. Or Staten Island. Or stay here and fight. Take back Ludlow Street, Le Miz style.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Listen to the Plugz.
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