That Lady from Maxim’s
nytheatre.com q&a preview by Bryan Williams
September 29, 2012
What is your job on this show?
When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
I know a certain unnamed political party holds teachers responsible for all the ills of society, but I've had several heroic teachers who inspired me -- one in particular, Donn Murphy, who made me a writer. There were no drama classes at Georgetown, and he battled the administration to sneak some into the curriculum. He nagged them into giving us a basement (with a pole in the middle) that he turned into a theatre (and I was always amazed the creative way that pole was used). Every year Dr. Murphy directed a student-written book musical, and the year I was chosen to write music and lyrics, he spent endless hours going over every measure, every lyric, every note until I finally learned what a theatre song is. The next year the book writer disappeared and he trusted me to write the script. I wasn't sure I could, but his message to everyone who fell under his spell was "you can do it." I went on to an unnamed grad school that was dedicated to political infighting and stamping the initiative out of its students, but Dr. Murphy's influence lingered and it never occurred to me not to write for theatre.
Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I actually had a play of mine, "In This Fallen City" turned into a movie, "Night of Courage." One of the producers clued me in to something: every movie executive churns out dozens of memos every day, so they think, what's the big deal about writers, anyone can do it. In theatre the writer has some stature, and some chance of the project he's worked on for years resembling somewhat what he had in mind. I'm the kind of writer who is very dependent on a director, good, bad or indifferent (I've had them all), and in Isle of Shoals I'm very fortunate to have a true collaborator, Lance Hewett.
Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
I'd heard of Feydeau in college and grad school (usually a sneering reference to a Feydeau farce) but never read anything by him until a couple of years ago, when I learned that he'd been upgraded from trashy populist to a precursor to Theatre of the Absurd. Then I ran across an adaptation that had me laughing out loud, and since my response to everything I see is, how can I turn this into a musical?, I went back the original (I had enough French to struggle through it). It got me thinking of French popular music -- I've always been a fan of Piaf, Brel and the like -- there used to be healthy cross-pollination in the cultures before politicians poured French wine into the Potomac and told us to hate France because they were right about Iraq. Anyway, I got to thinking of the two things, and I kept thinking about them, and then, like every play or musical I've ever done, it's not really a choice, but rather the accidental encounter -- or rather combination of encounters -- that takes over and decides I'm going to spend the next couple of years on this.
People who like which of the following recent Broadway shows would also probably like your show: THE BOOK OF MORMON, ONCE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, CLYBOURNE PARK?
I can't afford to see "The Book of Mormon," but from what I've heard about it, audiences who enjoy its irreverence mitigated by affection will enjoy our musical as well.
Theater is a necessary ingredient in democratic societies. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
I have no idea. It doesn't seem as essential to most people as "Dancing with the Stars" and in a world where virtually every movie is available at the push of a button, there's a lot of competition. I do know that for some people it's a necessary ingredient for surviving in a democratic society, and for those who don't think so -- they don't know what they're missing.