Hometown: Lafayette, Louisiana. Heart of Cajun Country.
Current Town: Willington, CT.
Q: Tell me about In The Bones.
A: In The Bones began as a one-act for Manhattan Theatre Works' "ReWorks: The Spanish Civil War," an evening of plays inspired by artwork from the Spanish Civil War era. I chose a poem by Miguel Hernandez, "Everything is filled with you." The ending, particularly -- "everything is filled with you, / with something I haven’t found, / but look for among your bones." -- triggered ideas about unexpected loss and the way we deal with it. So the one-act version looked at a family dealing with the suicide of a son (a veteran of the war in Afghanistan) and the unwelcome visit of the boyfriend he left behind.
The one-act evening happened, but the family of In The Bones wouldn't let me go. I was interested in how they might, over time, integrate this seismic loss into the fabric of their lives. So I expanded the play, moving each scene forward one year, charting the changes. And these other ideas came bubbling up -- the changing face of the South and its evolving relationship with gay rights, the real need for marriage equality in these socially stalled parts of the country, and our relationship with technology (The play contains several video interludes, filmed by the son who committed suicide, which serve as a kind of document of the life they all led before the suicide).
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I'm working on two new plays right now. One is called The Bottom of the Sea, and it imagines Tennessee Williams, post-opening of the "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" film, holed up in a seedy New Orleans hotel room, furiously working on the film script for "The Fugitive Kind." Williams is upset about the removal of the homosexual themes in the "Cat" film and is creatively stalled. Anna Magniani, Meade Roberts (his collaborator on the "Fugitive Kind" script) and a beautiful young man named Arthur swirl around him as he works. The play looks at how closely identity and creativity are tied together, and at the necessity for representation in art -- not just for the audience, but for the artist as well.
And I'm working on a show called Cuddleman, which is about a company that trains people to be professional non-sexual cuddlers for those in need of physical reassurance. Although apparently there's now an app for that, so... we'll see what happens there.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: The standard answer here for me has always been Tony Kushner. I met his work at that formative moment when the lightbulb is going off, "Oh yeah, I know! I wanna be a playwright!" I was in that moment, and I encountered "Angels in America." Completely changed the way I saw plays and what was possible on stage. And it gave me -- a still-closeted gay boy in south Louisiana -- permission to own my identity as a gay man and permission to tell stories about it.
Lately, I'd have to say my theatrical heroes are the wonderful people who put on the Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. I've been a playwright at the conference for the last two years, and it's been such a gift. The courage to tackle the full-length version of In The Bones came out of my first conference experience. It's an inspiring, challenging, warm and wonderful week in the Midwest. Everyone should go.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I'm going to defer to Tennessee Williams here, since he's on my mind lately.
"The color, the grace and levitation, the structural pattern in motion, the quick interplay of live beings, suspended like fitful lightning in a cloud, these things are the play, not words on paper, nor thoughts and ideas of an author, those shabby things snatched off basement counters at Gimbel's."
That's the kind of theatre that excites me. No matter the package. You can find "lightning in a cloud" in a devised dance-theatre piece or in a really cracking production of Ibsen. That flash of life inside the artifice of theatre -- that's always what I'm hoping to find.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don't wait around for some theatre to do your work. If no one's producing your play, produce it yourself. While we all love sitting at the computer and hashing out rewrite after rewrite, you don't really learn what it feels like to be a playwright until you're seeing your play in the rehearsal room and in front of an audience. So, make those opportunities. You learn so much. And while it may not be Steppenwoolf or Broadway or any of the other brass ring theatre opportunities, your play is being heard. Your play is being seen. There's value in that for you. There's value in that for your audience. So do it.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: In The Bones is being produced by the Astoria Performing Arts Center on November 6-22, 2014.
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