Monday, August 22, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 868: Peter Lefcourt

Peter Lefcourt

Hometown: New York City

Current Town: Santa Monica, Ca

Q: Tell me about Drama Queens from Hell

A:  It’s always difficult for a writer to trace the original spark that set off the process of writing a play. In the case of “Drama Queens From Hell,” it may have been a combination of wanting to write something about competition among actors and about the growing tendency to demand diversity in casting, a response to the “Oscars So White” meme. As usual, the script took off in its own direction, resulting in a play that could be labeled, oxymoronically, “a noir comedy.” The breakthrough, in this instance, was the idea of using a remake of the Billy Wilder classic, “Sunset Boulevard,” as the plot device upon which to hang the themes. The story of remaking the film winds up being thematically akin to the story of the film itself – older, cast-aside actresses vying with one another to play Norma Desmond. Just how that happened, I have no idea.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A:  I am in the middle of a new play, tentatively entitled, “Nine Hours.” The play is set in July, 1969, on the eve of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and follows Ted Kennedy’s actions during the nine hours that elapsed between his driving the car, with Mary Jo Kopechne inside, off the bridge on Chappaquiddick Island and his reporting the accident to the police. The conceit of the play is the visit of Ted Kennedy’s two dead brothers – Bobby and Jack –to help him do damage control. In the process we see the agonizing choices confronting the senator, as well as the dynamics of the Kennedy family, and the political zeitgeist of the time.

Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I would want the theater to be more financially viable, so that playwrights, directors and actors could make a decent living devoting their time to it. Almost every other developed country in the world – as well as some underdeveloped ones – subsidizes theater as an art form that elevates peoples’ consciousness. In this country, it is largely an activity indulged in by artists as an act of philanthropy.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Early on, I liked Ionesco and Pirandello – for their cogent use of the absurd. These days I admire Alan Ayckbourn, for his unique comic voice: Tom Stoppard, for his all-around brilliance, and, for similar reasons, Donald Margulies, Christopher Durang and Terrence McNally.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that I am still thinking about days and weeks after I’ve left the theater. Sometimes for years, maybe decades. I can still remember vividly the first time I saw Mamet’s “American Buffalo” off Broadway (1977), with John Savage and Robert Duvall.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Get a good day job.

Q:  Plugs, please.

A:  “Drama Queens From Hell” opens August 20th at the Odyssey Theatre and plays for six weekends, through 9/25. Details at: or 323 960-7787

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