Hometown: New York City
Current Town: New York City
Q: Tell me about Paternus.
A: I wrote Paternus in 2010, as an experiment in non-linear narrative style, and an ode to my paternal grandfather. I became fascinated with the way we compile information in real life, and how that's not mirrored in linear storytelling. The best examples are news stories- the initial report usually only deals with the most current situation, for instance: "two men were found dead in the woods this morning." From there we learn things in reverse, the focus starts pin-tight and gradually widens: "The men were in the woods on an annual camping trip." "Their names were...." "Their jobs are...." "They were born...." And finally we have the whole picture, with the past and present, but we tend to get that information in reverse, and I wanted to know what that would look like on stage. On film we've seen it a number of times, but on stage I was only aware of reverse-chronology being used in "Merrily We Roll Along," so I was eager to explore it. It's a huge boon, having the opportunity to see an experiment to its final stages. For that I am so grateful to Rogue Machine Theatre who took on this strange little play.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: Too many things! I try to create a hierarchy... number one right now is finishing a full length play I've been working on for a while. Second is a TV pilot, an apocalyptic story about the upcoming, inevitable water wars. Then there's a novel, a few short stories, I've never had the issue of writer's block, only of not enough time.
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 whole childhood explains who I am as a writer. I grew up in the opera world. My mom, Catherine Malfitano, is a soprano, so I spent my childhood on the road, backstage, in rehearsals. My earliest lessons in storytelling, structurally and thematically, came from Don Giovanni, Salome, Wozzeck, Tosca, Madama Butterfly. The title character always dies, the stories are filled with rape, lust, murder, vengeance, honor, and betrayal. These were my bedtime stories, and seeing my own mother in these characters allowed me to see through the spectacle, and into the truth of the tale. My parents used to recall this story to explain what kind of child I was: When I was four years old they hesitantly took me to my first Salome rehearsal, starring my mother. Of course they had been worried how a kid would react to such a perverse story. At the end, after Salome has John the Baptist beheaded, and then sings to his severed head, and kisses his dead lips, my father turned to me and asked what I thought. Was it wrong, what Salome was doing? My four year old response was: "No, it's not wrong, she doesn't know he's dead."
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams, Henrik Ibsen, Martin McDonagh, Bertolt Brecht, Tom Waits, The Tiger Lillies.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Anything that defies the norm. Theatre that tries things that have never been done before, even at the risk of being misunderstood, even at the risk of failing. Storytelling must progress, not stagnate.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Tell your stories, no matter what rules you have to break to do so.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Paternus is running at Rogue Machine Theatre in Los Angeles. roguemachinetheatre.com for tickets. I'm back in my writing cave, but future updates will emerge on daphnemalfitano.com or facebook.com/daphnemalfitano
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