A History of Launching Ships (somewhat after Washington Irving)
nytheatre.com q&a preview by Avi Glickstein
September 13, 2012
What is your job on this show?
What type of theater do you like most to work on?
My impulse is to give the really annoying and overly general answer "good theater" - but it's true. What I find interesting really does depend on the project. I'm equally attracted to straight-up good stories told well as I am to stuff that makes absolutely no sense and isn't supposed to. But I guess I would say that things I've been attracted to lately demand some kind of sustained concentration on the part of the audience - whether it's my writing some fairly long monologues for this play or the work I do with Object Collection or the workshop I was (unbelievably) fortunate enough to act in for Richard Foreman's play this past July. I like when there are moments that the audience just has to watch and/or listen to something for a good, long while. Then again, I loved working on a somewhat frenetic, 30-minute Christmas-time "fight play" with pirates, Santa, and elves. So...
What was the last show you saw that really excited you, and why?
On a whim, I actually saw this show called GUERRA at the Brick as part of the NY Clown Festival last night that I loved. I just thought it was lots of fun, skillful, and strangely poignant at times. I also really liked the revival of Athol Fugard's My Children! My Africa! at Signature. I've only seen one or two other Fugard plays in production, but this was definitely one of the best. And, from a couple years ago, Diary of a Madman with Geoffrey Rush at BAM. I actually reviewed it for NYTheatre.com, so you can read all about how much I loved it!
Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
The Polybe ladies (full disclosure: one of whom is my wife) have always been really supportive of my writing and they asked me to write a play inspired by and intended to be performed at a historical Brooklyn location - as yet to be determined at the time. I was really excited by the prospect of allowing a specific place to be the genesis for writing something, rather than what usually happens, which is that something is written and then needs a home. When the folks at BLDG92 agreed to present us, I was all the more excited. Not only is there such a rich history, but the Yard itself - its location on the water, the structures, the images of the ships built there - was really inspiring. I wanted to write a play that was not so much about the Yard as it was "of" the Yard. And I wanted to create something very female in this little walled-in corner of Brooklyn that has historically been very dominated by men. And I wanted it to feel American (whatever that means) and to be a reflection on sacrifice, something I think needs to be much more central in our national dialogue. And then I started rereading Washington Irving stories and wanted it to take on a bit of his gothic Americana. I think you get the picture. In short, there's a lot that excited me about writing this play.
Which famous New Jerseyite would like your show the best: Snooki, Bruce Springsteen, Thomas Edison?
Thomas Edison. The play is purposely anachronistic and our lighting designer (Marika Kent, who is also our Production Manager) has been thinking about characters in terms of their association with different kind of light - candle, electric, etc. Plus, BLDG92 (and the Yard in general) is a pretty amazing model of innovative sustainability. Didn't Edison once say, "Innovation good!"? Also, I believe he spent some time in the basement of one of the Victorian houses in my neighborhood, Ditmas Park. Neighbors, innovation, and light. What more could he ask for?
Who are your heroes?
Oh, I have an obsessive playwright crush on Wallace Shawn. I spent a summer reading all his plays and then WRITING WRONGS (a book about all his plays) and then rewatching My Dinner with Andre and then going to see The Designated Mourner when it was produced at an old gentleman's club in the Financial District and in which Shawn greeted the audience as they arrived. I was so f-ing nervous. Then the person in front of me started cackling at him while reciting lines from The Princess Bride. You know the line. I was so embarrassed that when I shook his hand, I couldn't say anything coherent. I just hung my head, mumbled and sat down. It was all very sad.