Age and occupation. How long have you lived here, where did you come from, and where do you live now?
I'm 29 and I'm a playwright/director. I moved to New York about two years ago. I grew up in a small town in eastern Washington state, went to UC Berkeley for college, and then continued on at Berkeley for grad school. After my fourth year of grad school, I got married and moved to Connecticut with my husband, who had dropped out of Berkeley to go to Yale Law School. After two years of trying to work on my dissertation in New Haven, I quit and moved to New York to be a playwright. I didn't really have any background in theater or know anyone who did it, but I had kind of lost my mind at that point. Miraculously, it turned out to be a good decision and things worked out, at least artistically. I started out sleeping on my best friend's couch in Astoria, then moved into my husband's cousin's rent-stabilized apartment on the upper west side, and finally ended up in a great little studio on the Lower East Side where I lived for over a year. When my husband and I separated earlier this year I had to move, so now I live in a squalid loft in East Williamsburg that I share with a bunch of other artist-types. I pay the rent by working part-time at a non-profit called Poets & Writers.
1. You've written a play, The Appeal, which is described as a historically inaccurate look at the English Romantic poets. You were also quoted as saying "I sat down and thought, 'What's the worst possible play I could write - the last kind of play I would ever think about writing.' I just thought it was such a pretentious, horrible idea for a play and thought it would be interesting to try to write it." For the budding playwrights in the audience, please explain your inspiration and intention with this.
Not long after I moved to New York, I entered Mac Wellman's playwriting program at Brooklyn College. I had to write a play for the program, but I didn't have much playwriting experience and was having a really hard time. I wanted to write something good, but every time I wrote anything I would start hating it and then start over again from the beginning. I was driving myself so crazy that finally I said to myself, "Okay, you're obviously incapable of writing a good play, so you should just write the worst thing you can think of and really go all out with it." So I came up with this ultra-pretentious idea of the English Romantic poets and started the play in the worst way I could, which was by having Wordsworth write at his desk and then look up and say, "Ah, my poem is finished." It all kind of spiraled downhill from there. Whenever I got bored with what I was writing, instead of trying to fix it or start over I would just switch tactics and go in some completely unrelated direction without changing anything that had come before. Like there was no plot for a while and I started wanting one, so I threw some random plot into the middle of the play and then abandoned it when I got tired of it. At one point I got stuck, so I just started the play over within the play itself--towards the end of the first act, Wordsworth starts writing again and says "Ah, my poem is finished" and then suddenly it's a new play. All of my frustration in writing and in life got absorbed into the world of the play, so the characters are constantly freaking out and going nuts in a fairly believable way. When The Appeal was finished I was ashamed to show it to anyone, but it ended up getting this overwhemingly positive response from people. It's definitely a very honest play that reflects where I was in my mind at that time, and I think people appreciate that.
2. Not much love for the English Romantic poets, huh?
No. I studied them a fair amount in school and appreciated their literary ability or whatever, but with the exception of Blake, I kind of despised them at a personal level. I especially didn't like Wordsworth. If you look at his most famous work, The Prelude, this is the first thing you see: "THE PRELUDE OR, GROWTH OF A POET'S MIND: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL POEM. / BOOK FIRST / INTRODUCTION -- CHILDHOOD AND SCHOOL-TIME." Then he goes, "O there is blessing in this gentle breeze, / A visitant that while it fans my cheek / Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings / From the green fields, and from yon azure sky." Bad news.
3. What do you have planned after The Appeal?
In March 2005, I'm doing a show called Pullman, WA at P.S. 122 in the East Village. Pullman is the name of the town where I grew up. I haven't written the play yet - I always come up with the title first and then write the play. I have no idea what it's going to be about. My parents still live in Pullman and my mother is worried that I'm going to write about their town and shame them. They're serious evangelical Christians and can't see any of my work because of all the obscenity. I actually feel kind of bad about that.
Please share a personal (and hopefully interesting) NYC taxi story.
I was getting nervous because this cab driver kept making strange noises, and then suddenly tried to lure me back to his apartment with the promise of free food and air conditioning. I told him my husband was psychotic and would try to kill anyone who messed with me. I hope my parents don't see this - they worry about me enough.
Time travel question: What era, day or event in New York's history would you like to re-live?
The 1970s when Richard Foreman and the Wooster Group were doing their first shows.
9pm, Wednesday - what are you doing?
At a bar near the theater with my stage manager and members of my cast - Nancy Whiskey or M-15 or Souths.
Describe that low, low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
I haven't had that moment yet, maybe because I've only been here two years.
What's the most expensive thing in your wardrobe?
A long black Calvin Klein winter coat that I got a while back, which I wear to work. Whenever I have it on I feel like one of those dogs with the cones around its neck.
Where do you summer?
This summer I'll probably be summering in my squalid East Williamsburg loft.
What was your best dining experience in NYC?
Dining is one aspect of New York that for some reason I haven't really gotten into. I lived in the Bay Area for almost ten years and was really familiar with the amazing restaurants there, like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, so by the time I came to New York my expectations were really high. I went to Peter Luger a few times and wasn't blown away. Russ & Daughters on E. Houston is pretty incredible, but for some reason they don't have great bagels. I used to be kind of a food snob, but I don't really think about that stuff too much anymore.
What happened the last time you went to L.A.?
My husband and I got separated.
Just how much do you really love New York?
I'm a negative thinker, and I don't have negative thoughts about New York.
This is the last weekend to catch The Appeal. There are shows tonight, Thurs, Fri, and Sun at 7:30. Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street. Reservations: 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.