Richard Greenberg  by Craig Gholson

BOMB 21 Fall 1987
021 Fall 1987
Greenberg01 Body

Richard Greenberg. © 1987 by Susan Shacter.

New York is a hothouse for Richard Greenberg plays—six productions in the three years following his graduation from the Yale School of Drama. This feat provides us with an encapsulated look at an extremely talented playwright. The Bloodletters, first produced at Yale and then at Ensemble Studio Theatre, is the story of Corky Sutter, a young man isolated by his own stench from all but the most begrudging human companionship that his family and a hired “friend,” an ex-football player with a damaged olfactory sense, can muster. Very much a “first play,” The Bloodletters is a fart joke with resonance, a play whose concerns Greenberg would not feel complete about until his self-termed “rewrite” of The Bloodletters as The Author’s Voice.

Greenberg’s first critical success, Life Under Water (1985) followed in a production starring Amanda Mummer, Andrew McCarthy, and Jill Eikenberry again at E.S.T. Half of Greenberg’s plays are set on the water—beaches providing a limitless landscape into which particularly guarded characters seem willing to momentarily expand (usually finally to contract even more). Where Bloodletters ’s premise addresses a physical dysfunction, Life Under Water’s dysfunctions are familial, personal, and spiritual: Jinx to her son Kip: “Why do you lie the way you do? I mean, I can understand lying in the abstract. For a purpose. But you tell people you summer in Newport instead of the Hamptons. That your father is in steel instead of oil. That’s lateral mobility, what does it get you?”

Vanishing Act (1986) is a murky and inbred rendering of the inner and outer relationships of generations of a WASP family resulting in an almost hemophiliac play. The Maderati (1987) and The Hunger Artist (1987), a collaboration with Martha Clarke based on short stories by Kafka, premiered almost simultaneously and apprise a very interesting symbiosis. The Maderati is a glib look at a circle of “artists”—Cuddles Molotov, Dantots Young, Rena and Chuck deButts—who might aspire to success on the levels Martha Clarke has achieved except for one problem; they are artist manques and not artists. The Maderati is Greenberg’s most conventional play; conventional in its outrageousness as opposed to the depth gained by his other plays’ dark and playful perversity.

The Author’s Voice (1987) is Greenberg’s most accomplished work seen to date. A latter-day Grimm’s fairy tale set in the publishing world involving a writer, his editor, and the gnarled gnome who actually does the writing, The Author’s Voice illustrates one very appealing aspect to all of Greenberg’s work—the delight in settling down to a good “yarn.” His plays are very much told, they seem spun directly from his imagination.

Up until this point Greenberg’s characters are informed not by loneliness so much as by a profound inability to connect to either people or things. Emotional and physical synapses misfire all over the place in misplaced affections, incorrect answers to misunderstood questions, misdirected rage, and deliberate obfuscation of feeling (mandatory for survival). His just completed play, Eastern Standard, sets up these elements but finds Greenberg tiptoeing towards, if not a completely optimistic ending, to a less pessimistic one—it’s the fragile optimism of an ironist.

Craig Gholson Which are you more comfortable with, satire or irony?

Richard Greenberg I think it’s somehow safer to be a satirist and a lot more decisive, but irony comes more naturally to me because it acknowledges affection for the thing you’re driven to criticize.

CG By “thing” do you mean situation or person?

RG Drew in Eastern Standard is constantly punching through everyone’s aspirations or pretensions, but his honesty is the only thing that separates him from everybody else. He’s exactly like them: he just admits it, I think it’s very hard to be a middle-class satirist. I think there’s something inalienably middle-class about me which in some ways is indefensible and is also in many ways a ridiculous thing to be. Satire has a kind of “knight of faith” aspect about it: you’ve conquered, you’ve overcome. I think with irony you can be just as stuck as ever, but you’re willing to talk about it.

CG And most times in your plays that talk is in terms of rue. I think that rue is the smell that permeates your work.

RG I think that’s true. One of my favorite novels is The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, where near the end the narrator gives a summa of the story saying something like, “Why can’t people have what they want? The things were there for everybody, but everybody has got the wrong thing.” That narrator is supposed to be completely fatuous, but that question somehow has a kind of naive power. The Bloodletters, which was my first play done in New York and not one I’m especially fond of, but when it was done at Yale, I used that passage as its epigraph.

CG Why is it you don’t especially like that play?

RG What I really hate about that play is that is has a symbol in it. I hate symbols. The way American realist plays do symbolism is just appalling. “Some people build fences to keep people out, others build fences to keep people in.” What is that?—it’s nothing, it’s garbage.

CG It’s a way of not writing.

RG Yes. It’s a way of pretending something’s going on. It’s like, “Yes—the symbol.” So that lower-level critics can think there’s a certain depth. In Bloodletters not only is there a symbol, but it’s the title. I didn’t know what I was doing in that play. I tend to have a greater attachment and affection to the plays where I knew what I was doing. I don’t mean to say I hate it. I don’t hate it. And I don’t want to be disloyal to the people I worked with and who liked it. And I don’t think I was being dishonest in doing it. At the time, it represented an advance for me.

CG It has a stage note which sums up a recurrent theme in subsequent plays which is that the set has “an extreme eccentricity rooted in a rigid logic.”

RG Yes. Did I write that? Well, I did know something of what I was talking about. When we were doing The Author’s Voice and trying to create the reality of that world, we said that everything in it was referential to the real world, but together it had something surreal about it. It’s the extremes in the real world gathered so that they become their own surrealism. I think that’s the way that most of my plays work. They’re seldom actually absurdist. They cant reality so that it’s toward the absurd without ever losing the underpinnings of realism.

CG All the plays to me seem to be very much fin de siècle plays.

RG How do you mean?

CG Because it’s people looking back at their histories. Even the children, the younger people like Amy-Joy and Amy Beth in Life Under Water carry this enormous amount of luggage with them. It’s like the ennui of the fathers has been visited upon the children.

RG There is an awful lot of ennui. You would think their memories alone would entertain them. Isn’t that true. That’s funny. I’ve never thought of that.

CG I think it’s a quality particularly inherent in the upper or upper-middle classes. They’re the ones who have the luxury to do that. In The Bloodletters which is basically your only lower middle-class play …

RG Isn’t that odd that that’s true?

CG … even in that play there’s something that Faye says when she’s talking to Reid, she says, “The price of education, that you should have contempt for your relatives.”

RG That’s a big theme too, that’s a big subterranean theme.

CG That knowledge divorces you from people?

RG Not so much that knowledge divorces you from people, but that people are constantly trying to extirpate themselves somehow, that they’re constantly cutting off from the style of their pasts or their elders. Running through many of the plays, you’ll find that there are all these rich WASPs and then these Jews hanging around. There’s a kind of assimilationist pattern going on. Even when it’s not the point of the play or being dealt with by the play, there’s always that feeling of people who probably are the children of children of immigrants and they are themselves Ivy League pseudo-WASPs.

CG Which characters would you say that’s true of?

RG In Bloodletters, which I haven’t thought of in a while, certainly Reid is like that. Maybe it isn’t true of all the characters. I’ve always felt that it’s been pervasive in the way I look at things. It may not be in the characters, but in the tone or in the irony. There’s the sense of people who dwell among a group or class of people without having quite the distance of knowing that they don’t belong or that they weren’t really born to this. And when it doesn’t manifest itself as a character, it manifests itself as a point of view. I think the sort of upper-crusty WASP that seems to keep coming back and back and back in my plays always is looked at through a slightly jaundiced eye. My plays aren’t terribly autobiographical the way some plays are. No character is a stand-in for me. There are no events taken from my life. I was brought up on Long Island and we were just smart suburban Jews and then I went to Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. There’s always been that strangeness of being among all these people. When I was at Princeton, someone could be named DuPont and I wouldn’t even realize. It didn’t even compute. There was a sense of “Why would they be here?” But then, where would they be? It’s that kind of drastic being ripped away from where you are and what you are and then traveling among other peoples for a long time. Even when there isn’t someone who is like the stranger in the land of the rich, there’s the attitude, the point of view.

CG Do you write out of depression?

RG I don’t think I’ve ever written well out of depression. This is going to be really off the topic. The way Bloodletters is usually considered a personal work and isn’t. The Maderati is usually considered a very impersonal work and it’s probably my most personal work because it came out of a very specific environment—not New York, but Yale and the Drama School. And it came out of a set of pressures as well as an incident. A friend of mine, in fact, was locked up at her psychiatric interview. I’ve always been on a fairly even keel personally. Maybe not so much for a banker, but very much so for a playwright or someone in the arts, And when I was at Yale a couple of friends and I felt taken advantage of because we always kept an even keel so people who didn’t keep that even keel and, in fact, prided themselves on the unevenness of their keel, were constantly imploding on us and using us and using our relative sanity. And that’s what Maderati came out of—this incredible frustration at being sane among people who either weren’t sane or tried not to be or were using their neurosis as a poker chip. The way that they could get into the game was to be insane lunatics. Well, I guess we’re trying to get back to the depression question. No. I don’t really write out of depressions. I’ve found a way not to get too depressed. The couple of times I’ve been sort of depressed and written something, it’s been really garbage-y. Usually when I’m writing I’m elated.

CG You can write these great scenes of rue while you’re elated?

RG Once I’ve written a great scene of rue I can go out and if it’s any good at all, I’m on cloud nine. No. I never feel that sense that the emotion I’m writing about is the emotion I’m feeling. I don’t think I could ever do that. I think if I were depressed I would have to write something really really funny and lighthearted. Those scenes of rue, those are usually my favorite scenes. I write them and go, “Wow,” and go off and feel terrific. The only time I get depressed when I’m writing is when I’m writing these stupid screenplays that are so awful. And then I’m depressed because it’s so hard. And stupid and empty.

CG You don’t find any frustration in writing something that you know will probably never get done?

RG The whole thing is frustrating. It’s not fun. But I also have this kind of weird, strangely Puritan thing where every now and then I like to make things hard for myself. Sometimes you look at your life and realize, well, there’s hardly a day where you ever have to wake up and be somewhere. You can make appointments to go see movies with friends at noon. So, in a way, it’s completely ridiculous, but every now and then when something gets hard, I decide to accept it for that reason. There’s certainly hardship all around in writing plays and putting them up and having them get bad reviews, but it’s different. It’s different from the kind of labor most people have where they just hate their jobs. If someone wanted to give me a lot of money and said that I just had to write my plays that would be fine too.

CG It’s curious you bring up that because the characters in your plays have a high unemployment rate.

RG Isn’t that funny.

CG People either don’t work or don’t talk about work or the thing that they want to do most, the thing that will clear up their lives is quit their jobs.

RG That’s in Eastern Standard, the new play, where everybody wants to quit their jobs.

CG Up until that play, nobody had a job or very few. I thought that was very interesting. Then I read Eastern Standard and everybody had a job which they roundly hated.

RG Why is it nobody has a job? Or they do have jobs and they’re on sabbatical. And I don’t know that that isn’t just a side step. Someone, I think it was Phillip Roth, was talking about how amazing it was that John Updike knew what it was like to have a job. In Rabbitt is Rich he knew what it was to run a Toyota dealership. How does somebody know? I think it must come from not having a job so you can hang around people who do and just take notes. As soon as I got out of Yale I was able to support myself as a writer.

CG I think jobs come perilously close to symbolism.

RG They’re emblematic. Like, “Ah, you’re going to write the oppressed play.”

CG The highest field of employment in your Canon is poetry.

RG But they’re usually really bad poets.

CG Charlotte in The Maderati I suppose just by virtue of the fact that her book was rejected by publisher Martin Royale means that she was a good poet.

RG No. It’s funny. The prototype for Charlotte is a wonderful poet, but that didn’t seem dramatically functional somehow or artistically necessary. Yet, I guess there are a lot of poets which is interesting because of all the genres of writing, poetry is the one that I’ve never really investigated at all.

CG There are all kinds of digs at poetry in your work. I would suspect that you don’t spend a lot of time at poetry readings.

RG No, I don’t spend a lot of time at poetry readings. I also think that where poetry might be the hardest kind of writing to do successfully, it’s the easiest kind to do really badly. Because there are so few words involved. It seems like so many people with literary pretensions and no talent seize on poetry because it seems as if the rules are completely non-existent.

CG Callie in Bloodletters was a good poet.

RG Callie was a good poet. Well, he gave up poetry and was a food stylist.

CG Callie was a good poet who seemed happier being a food stylist.

RG Now this was a big problem. I thought, in the reception of The MaderatiMaderati was the play that really crystallized that. For instance, the Michael Feingold review, which I loved as a review even though it wasn’t a favorable review basically. But I thought it had a central fallacy—a lot of people responded to it as if I was talking about people who were good at what they did. Feingold said something about how no artist in this century has behaved like these artists. Well, these aren’t artists. I write about artist’s manques, predators on art, people who acquire the label without having any of the substance. So it seems as if I’m attacking the real thing when, in fact, I attack the case with which one can label oneself an artist. It’s always the psuedo-artist who gets it.

CG The title alone tells you that—the combination of “mad” with “literati.”

RG Yes. I have no grudge against conceptual art or poetry or any of these things.

CG Clay in Vanishing Act has a formula: Take one rich woman add three neuroses yield: one conceptual artist.

RG Exactly. But the emphasis there is on the rich woman. Usually the target is the dilettante, the would-be. Maderati was entirely about the would-be’s. And, in fact, the sorts of behavior that supposedly never occurred were really based on reality. I mean these people used to sit in front of windows with their eyes closed, their hair streaming behind them while they waited for inspiration to occur. They used to sit in the middle of a room and start reciting morbid quatrains. They really behaved this way and I think so often neurosis is the cloak for vacuousness. This kind of incredible style. And yes, I think the art that’s conceptual, that’s based on the vibrancy of an idea or a place, a relationship, is the easiest kind to rip off. So, no, the target is the rich woman, not the conceptual artist.

CG This is true, because I think your plays actually are conceptual in a way.

RG How do you mean?

CG The way Life Under Water is structured, it’s set up so that you have two playing areas opposite each other and basically it’s like Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, one scene flows into another and they go back and it’s like a physical manifestation of the sea. That to me seems close to a conceptual idea.

RG That was more instinctual than conceptual. The reason I’m happier with my later work—not that I’m not unhappy with that play, I’m unhappy when people like that play best , is simply because I didn’t know what I was doing as much. Then. I just felt my way around it. And ultimately it turned out all right. Vanishing Act, which most people consider a structural abomination, was the most highly structured play of any I’ve ever written. In the new one Eastern Standard, the first act was based on this idea of folds of time and has overlapping scenes. And that was entirely intentional. I’m becoming more and more intentional in my work. As I’m figuring out more and more the traditional or the pedantic ways to make a play work. I feel stronger and stronger ignoring them. I mean I feel I can use or discard them as I want. The Author’s Voice was structured like a de Maupassant short story. Or even O. Henry. It has a twist at the end. I wanted to write something that had the structure and style of a genre piece and with any luck was suggestive beyond that. The early plays were all structurally come as you are, “I hope this ends,” and “I hope this works.” As often as not, they didn’t. But lately I’ve been very conscious and very attentive to that.

CG When you start out writing a play, is there some formalistic conceit or challenge that you say, “With this play I want to create such and such.”

RG Sometimes it’s a structural idea that’s the seed of the play. The first idea I had for the new one, Eastern Standard, was the folds in time idea to go back and overlap and see the overlapping reality. This is going to sound totally pretentious, but it’s like the idea in the Auden poem, “Musee des Beaux Arts.” The poem where the crucial event in Judeo-Christian heritage is happening and people are just turning away from it. I love the idea of, “Here are these simultaneous realities and let’s just find a structural conceit to embody that.” And I think that was what started that play. And the characters followed or came at the same time but separately. It’s only lately that I’ve been able to accept my drama school education and really think of a play as more than an effusion of voice and I’ve come to really enjoy the possibilities, the formal possibilities, of the play. There was always such a point of despair when you didn’t know where you were going, and how to get there. So now I start knowing where I’m going to go. Vanishing Act, which everyone thought was a mess, and maybe it was, was the most thoroughly conceived play I’ve ever written.

CG For me, it seems very tight and constricted—Maybe too thoroughly conceived.

RG Over controlled?

CG Yes.

RG That’s interesting. I thought I was going to get maimed for sentimentality on that play. And I ended up getting criticized for over-abstraction. You’re never received the way you think you’ll be. Even when you get bad reviews, though, they’re usually for plays you have no idea you’ve written.

CG Do you think you’ll ever write a play that’s not about neurotic New Yorkers?

RG I’ll tell you. I thought Maderati was going to be my last New York play. I was committed to that. And then when it sort of came off, but not completely, I thought, “Well, just one more,” I’m constantly driven to finish. And if it’s not to finish the play itself, it’s to get the idea out. For instance, when I wrote Author’s Voice, I no longer felt as if I had to rewrite Bloodletters which had always been hanging over my head, because it did address some of the same concerns, though better realized and transformed. But in a way, it was my trying to close the book on Bloodletters and not have to do that idea any more. I don’t want to keep writing about New Yorkers. Yes, I have a 1910 play in mind that takes place possibly in New York state, but not New York. Now these are plays I’ve been dabbling with forever. I have a Texas play. I feel that another reason I write screenplays and I may even write for television, is I would love to have enough money so that I could go slow for a year. Just be slow. Not feel this incredible need to produce, produce, produce. I want to alter the metabolism of life.

CG I would imagine that that would very much change the organic structure of your work.

RG How do you mean? Because it has a kind of a speed?

CG It has a speed, people talking in very clipped syntax, and I would imagine that as a function of you slowing down your life, that that would change.

RG I think all sorts of things would change. I think I could write those plays that needed to be written more slowly. I have nothing against writing quickly, I love writing quickly, but you can write quickly only if you are not constantly questioning the milieu. When I’m writing these plays about New Yorkers, I seldom feel unconfident about the milieu, the syntax, the emotional syntax. I just feel as if I know it. There’s no need for that kind of slow building, that patience. I think you need to come to a point of repose to have patience in your work. I’ve been revising this new play and will continue to revise it endlessly, endlessly and ultimately I’ll work very very hard on this play. But, there’s a feeling of being able to generate a play in a very short time.

CG How long a period?

RG Eastern Standard was written, when I got going on that. I was writing 35 pages or 40 pages a day. Because it all came out. It was all together. The Author’s Voice took four mornings. I don’t think it took ten hours, and had very, very few changes ultimately. Sometimes things come to me whole. Now, Eastern Standard was odd because I had just started thinking about it a couple of weeks before I started writing it. And it just came. Maderati, the first act of Maderati, also came like that. But that’s because I heard what was going on. I got a call saying that this friend had been locked up and I just went upstairs and started writing. Enormously sympathetic response.

CG I’m sure she appreciated it. Let’s talk about structure a little bit.

RG Oh dear God.

CG The plot lines that you favor seem to be along screwball comedy lines.

RG Oh dear, do they?

CG They have those kinds of twists.

RG I guess they do have twists. I don’t—

CG They’re similar to screwball comedies in the way they’re structured.

RG The emergence of a gnome from behind a door. Yes, I like perverse twists and odd surprises and I get very uncomfortable when things get too normal. I get really scared when things stay normal for too long a time. I want to at least know something’s going to pop out of the door. I want to know that something is going to be odd. Or something will be unusual, or something won’t be utterly expected. Those work when they’re not just a function of the plot. My favorite of my plays that have so far been produced is Author’s Voice. And I think when the guy pops out of the door and says “Am I the only one left with a sense of loveliness?” there’s more than just “Oh he’s popped out the door.” I mean I hope there’s more than he’s just popped out the door.

CG One of the things that I notice about your writing, is that there are very few modern day cultural indicators. You really seem to shy away from them.

RG Susan Seidelman’s semiotic approach to reality?

CG Yes, and in fact, when they’re there, they’re very jarring. The new play mentions Eric Fischl’s work. The plays almost exist in a classical or pure kind of space that’s contemporary without being specifically associated to the times we’re in. Your references are to Duncan Phyfe chairs or antimacassars; to classic things that will always be contemporary because of their classicism.

RG Yes, that’s interesting. In the new play, where there are a few even if they are jarring, I left them in because the play seemed less stylistically enclosed. For all of The Author’s Voice‘s contemporary book publishing satire or whatever those critics said about it, it has a kind of general almost fairy-tale-like applicability. Eastern Standard seems to much more take place in the present and to be about the present and to have very strong contemporary referents, so I did a lot of them. Part of it is a disinclination to write brand names which is a lazy shorthand for writing. Another thing is possibly the arrogance, the ridiculous, absurd, stupid arrogance of “Oh, what will people in 2015 think this means?” I don’t know where that comes from, because I don’t really have any sense that it’s going to matter, but I’ve always felt there’s sometimes a sense of cheapness when you just hear a name that will be in your medicine chest when you get home. That’s a kind of Neil Simon take—a valium writing.

CG It also divides the world into those who know and those who don’t.

RG The Neil Simon reference says this is a play for middle-aged people who take valium and remember Coney Island and are Jewish and the kind of Susan Seidelman movie says this is a play for people who think they’re hip. And are below 35. It’s a kind of shibboleth that says “Ah this is a play for me.” I don’t care. With my plays whoever likes it, that’s who it’s for. Whoever can respond. And, yeah, I always feel deeply uncomfortable when I write a real name reference. But this is a play about people who are deeply engaged in, or trying to get disengaged from a very specific, a very contemporary, very urban world. And so I just said, “Oh, what the hell,” and wrote those names.

CG Are you sentimental?

RG Do you think my work is?

CG I think the work doesn’t seem to be afraid to be sentimental.

RG It’s not afraid—well, some of it is. I mean the Maderati was a little afraid of being sentimental. I go back and forth. And whenever I let it in, I feel, “Well I’ll just indulge this.” It all goes back to a certain strong strain of romanticism in my sensibility. Feingold, in his review of Maderati said I’m a romantic about artists when in fact, I think artists are the one thing I’m not romantic about. I find myself completely, not cynical, but completely skeptical about artists. I find the aura of the artist really hilarious. It’s so preening and so silly. I don’t respond to fake sentimentality and I don’t respond to the sentimental tradition in American plays very much, you know “the subject was roses,” “I love you, Dad”—I hate that stuff. And I hate concealed or reverse sentimentality, that sentimentality that pretends not to be sentimental. But I’m fine with a kind of pictorial sentimentality. I set plays on the beach partly because there’s a visual expansiveness I like. And that leads to a kind of emotional expansiveness. Vanishing Act, which wasn’t really about neurotic New Yorkers; I love the visual expansiveness of it. I become unconstricted by beach scenes and there’s an emotional pouring out. So, maybe that’s sentimental but I deal with it.

CG One of the ways you seem to deal with it is that you juxtapose cruelty against it.

RG The thing is, you see, I never can turn off that second, that third eye. It’s that weird thing where even in the midst of a situation, there’s always a critical counter-voice. Even as I’m giving in, and giving in and giving in, I’m realizing that there’s going to have to be something cutting against it. Because I believe equally in the skeptical and the romantic, which is a very odd balance. Probably the goal of my work is to try to bring those things together.

CG One of the stage directions in The Author’s Voice is that Todd, the writer, and Portia, the editor, enter Todd’s room. “They pause in this light for a moment; the picture they make is burnished and lovely. Todd turns on the room light. A sudden harshness.” You create this moment of poignancy and then just destroy it.

RG I have to because those things have a whole equal sway over my mind. They’re both there.

CG And I think that’s what creates real tension in your work.

RG In some ways my favorite last scene is in this new play, Eastern Standard, because it’s the most positive. There were two couples being formed and I thought one was going to have a positive ending and one was going to have a negative ending, or one was going to end badly. But I thought, “Well, even the positive ending will be saved because the circumstances are basically dark and doomed and so it won’t all end happy-happy. Which terrifies me—happy-happy. I was so scared to write something that ended well and they both ended well by accident. They just came. It’s the idea that people can behave well and do the best thing in incommodious circumstances. The ending is romantic, but everything is going against it, too. It’s momentary, it will probably collapse after the black out, and there’s all sorts of darkness in the offing. But there’s also the possibility of accommodating to the darkness and behaving well anyway.

CG I think one of your real strengths as a dramatist is in the scale of your plays. They seem to possess an inherently correct proportion. For the most part, they have enough room in them to house what’s there comfortably. Maybe what I’m saying is that they’re relatively short. (laughter) You have the ability in few very well-turned words to establish a large context. What do you think your strengths are?

RG They change from play to play. I think the structure of The Author’s Voice is sort of impeccable. I think that’s an almost impeccably structured play. I think it’s perfectly shaped, and whatever delight is derived from that play comes from the strength of the structure. When you get to Bloodletters and Maderati they’re a mess structurally. So I think most of the plays at least have patches of good dialogue. I think most of them are funny and smart, at least for a while. I think I often write well. I wish you’d ask what I hate.

CG What do you hate?

RG A reliance on writing well. I think I’d like to get over coasting on dialogue.

CG It’s that pit of being a Yalie playwright, a wiseacre.

RG I know. I don’t want to be a wiseacre or a Yalie playwright. When cleverness happens, I hope there’s a critical grid over it. Often I write about people who are too smart for their own emotional lives, or for their own passional lives. I write about people who are extending the dual relationship that I extend to material. They can’t turn off. There’s an equal validity to their minds and to their hearts. But they can’t reconcile the two. So Annie, in Bloodletters, who’s dying from these horrible relationships launches an attack on romantic love which she truly believes in.

CG Somebody asks her, “Does he make you happy?” And she says—

RG “He makes me not care that he doesn’t make me happy.” It would seem that for most of these people that probably is the ideal situation.

Christopher Durang  by Craig Gholson
Durang 01 Body
Thomas Bradshaw by Margo Jefferson
Thomas Bradshaw 01

Jefferson describes Bradshaw’s plays as treacherous territories peopled with high-achieving suburbanites and professors gripped by sexual and racial manias. Their most dangerous quality: they act on pure id.

Christopher Durang  by Craig Gholson
Durang 01 Body

A Christopher Durang survival kit to the pitfalls of modern life would be easy to carry: a laugh and a sense of irony.

D.S. Part II of Desire, A Play by Kathy Acker

6. Sitting here I see through the glass restaurant door, a three-foot wide rivulet of black water, flowing, now stagnant, against cobblestones, each one slightly apart from the ones surrounding it. 

Originally published in

BOMB 21, Fall 1987

James Rosenquist, Julian Barnes by Patrick McGrath, Diane Kurys, Richard Greenberg, and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe.

Read the issue
021 Fall 1987