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A Serious Person and Then Some

nytheatre.com q&a preview by John Doble
June 24, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Playwright.

What is your show about?
A Serious Person and Then Some is three one-act plays: the first starts with a question; the second ends in tears; the third is a crime.

When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
I initially wrote short stories. A number of mine appeared in literary magazines and then a collection was published by Clemson University. But seeing a story in print is a bit like tossing a stone into a lake – one doesn’t know if people see or hear (or read) it, let alone if they’re affected the way a writer hopes. I also found that dialogue is easier for me than exposition. And so I decided to try a play. When I’d finished my first one, I enrolled in a workshop where playwrights read each others’ work aloud. When I heard people react, when they laughed or I saw they were moved, I was hooked.

What are some of your previous theater credits? (Be specific! Name shows, etc.)
I’ve written three full-length plays (The Mayor Who Would Be Sondheim, To Protect the Poets, and Reunion Run, which will premiere in August, 2013 in the NYC Fringe Festival) and four one-act plays (A Serious Person, Coffee House, Greenwich Village, Tatyana and the Cable Man, and The Mortgage). A number of my plays were finalists or semi-finalists in both national competitions and in festivals in New York, Massachusetts, and California. Over the years and in this festival in particular, I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazingly talented directors and actors who often take my work far beyond what I initially imagined.

Do you think the audience will talk about your show for 5 minutes, an hour, or way into the wee hours of the night?
When I see a play or movie or read a novel, I like three things: first, a good story, I love a good story; second, characters I care about; third, an absorbing situation or dilemma or premise or starting point. In short, something that sticks to my ribs as opposed to something that, no matter how tasty, I can scarcely remember a day or two later. And that’s what I strive for: to tell a good story about compelling characters who must deal with a challenge, perhaps an idea or a conflict or a choice, and in the process give the audience something to chew on, something to take away. But having said that, I firmly believe that a playwright’s first obligation is to entertain; it is, to borrow a phrase, The Prime Directive.

Which famous person would you most like to get a fan letter from: Denzel Washington, Maggie Smith, Ang Lee, Audra McDonald?
If any of those outstanding artists enjoyed one of my plays enough to send me a letter, I’d be elated. But forced to choose, I might say Audra McDonald because of the intelligence, warmth, compassion and grace she brings to every role or performance. Not to mention her amazing talent.

Who are your heroes?
I’m not sure I have “heroes” any more, at least in the usual sense, because we human beings are, by our very nature, flawed, and often deeply so. But I admire a great many people. Here’s just a few: in the political world President Obama, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Golda Meir, General Omar Bradley, Abraham Lincoln, and James Madison; among contemporary playwrights, John Patrick Shanley, August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, David Mamet, Tracey Letts, and Athol Fugard; among authors, Charlotte Bronte, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, George Orwell, and J.D. Salinger; among scientists and philosophers, Thomas Jefferson, Darwin, Freud, John Stuart Mill, and Carl Sagan. I admire wealthy people who give back. And the men and women in the Armed Forces who serve with honor. I’m a fan of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Curtis Mayfield, Cole Porter and Gershwin. And, as long as I’m listing things, Woody Allen movies, Doonesbury, “The Daily Show” and the SNL send ups of “Fox and Friends.” Whew! That’s a lot, and I’m not even warmed up.