An nytheatre voices cyber-interview
In addition to Shiloh Rules beginning performances soon, you also have the opening of Mrs. California. Could you tell us a bit about each play?
Mrs. California and Shiloh Rules were written about 15 years apart, but having them both open in NYC in the same week is a huge surprise—and a gift for me. Both plays are about women and war and competition. Mrs. California is set in 1955 at a contest (that really happened) for housewives to prove their skills in sewing, cooking, table-setting, ironing, and all around good home-making. The women in Shiloh Rules are contemporary Civil War reenactors—two Confederate refugees vs. two Union nurses—battling for the title of Best Female Reenactor and struggling for the approval of an African American woman Park Ranger to let them stay on the battlefield.
Mrs. California deals with the anti-feminist mood of the country after World War II when women were supposed to give up their war work and return to the kitchen. Its two main characters have very different attitudes toward their new lives—and that’s the real conflict in the play. In Shiloh the women are using the Civil War to find purpose and meaning in their lives, but discover the ugly side of that war and the conflicts from it that haven’t been—and maybe can’t ever be—resolved.
You have written many plays and are well known in California where you live. The above plays are your first to premiere in New York. How come? And how did each of these productions come to be?
I’m probably not that well known in California either, but that’s what makes American regional theatre so important for playwrights like me. I can work in Seattle, Baton Rouge, Sacramento, Albany, Montgomery Alabama—and next year in Salt Lake City. (Lots of state capitals here, wonder what that means…?) These theatres make it possible for plays and playwrights to have a life outside of New York City. And organizations like Theatre Communications Group, The Playwrights’ Center, and the National New Play Network keep new work developing and circulating. I’ve found some really brave producers and adventurous audiences out there. So I guess that’s why it’s been such a long time since I’ve worked in NYC.
Your plays are referred to as ‘feminist’ plays. Do you approve of this description and is this really important?
Well, it’s funny—I’m proud of being called a feminist, but I’m always surprised to see it as a description of my plays. But with the conservative mood of the U.S. these days, I’m even prouder of it. And yes, I think it’s important. Whether we like the word feminist or not, we can’t stop defending the rights and freedoms so many women have fought for. And the fact is I owe my writing career to the Women’s Movement pushing for more women writers at places like the Mark Taper Forum and the American Film Institute when I got started.
Your bio hints at possible interests you seem to pursue such as working with the deaf...
The National Theatre of the Deaf did produce my adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but the main work I did was with Vickie Lewis in the Other Voices program at the Taper, developing work by writers with disabilities. This spring TCG is going to publish the anthology Beyond Victims and Villains: New Plays by Playwrights with Disabilities. One of the collaborative plays we developed in Other Voices—PH-reaks—will be in that collection.
... and, I believe, working with artists in prison. Could you tell us more about these interests, how they came to be and how you pursue them?
At the Taper in the 1970’s Robert Greenwald got a group of us together to do theatre workshops in prisons. We liked each other and the work so much we continued as “Artists in Prison” (which then became “LA Theatre Works,” now known for producing plays on radio). We worked with inmates on writing, acting, music, and design and the plays we made weren’t just produced in prison, some of them were actually taken out—with the inmates on a bus with prison guards—and performed at the Taper Lab in Hollywood. Getting those voices out and heard was incredibly satisfying work. I don’t think I’m just being Lady Bountiful here; working with Artists in Prison and Other Voices has been necessary for my writing. It kept me from spending all my time sitting alone in a room and has kept me connected to the bigger world—being part of movements for change and writing with a purpose—and I plan on staying involved in those movements.
Will you be coming to NY as an audience member or are you planning to look in on rehearsals and perhaps offer some last minute suggestions?
Mostly I’ll be an audience member, but I love watching rehearsals more than anything so it’ll be hard to keep me out. I hope I won’t have any suggestions to make.
Can we at least hope that you and your work will now be bi-coastal and what are your immediate plans for the next year or so?
2007 is going to be more mid-continental than bi-coastal for me! The Salt Lake Acting Company is going to produce Sexsting the play I wrote with defense lawyer Susan Raffanti about an FBI Internet sting operation.
And I’ll be working on a new play for the History Theatre in Minneapolis about the Minnesota 8—draft board raiders who destroyed 1-A draft cards in protest against the Vietnam War—and what they’re up to now. So there are two subjects that should be controversial—and necessary—and I can’t wait to get them going.
Sunday, March 12, 2006