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Brotherly Love

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Ean Miles Kessler
March 24, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Playwright.

What is your show about?
A screwball comedy about two brothers in Lynchburg, Mississippi.

What type of theater do you like most to work on?
As a playwright, I tend to work on kitchen-sink dramas, but try to imbue them with a kind of poetic realism. Two huge influences for me were Tennessee Williams and August Wilson, who I think both achieved that sense of finding the beauty in the mundane. And despite the fact that Brotherly Love is a comedy, my usual pattern is to write dark, and fairly tragic works; this play is my aberration from that. I tend to deal with themes of loneliness and the tragic, often self-destructive and violent nature of “masculinity.”

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I think the greatest thing about theater is that it is the only one of the arts which asks the viewer to participate in the "suspension of disbelief." And while this happens to some extent in film & television, it isn’t to the same degree because in theater the magic happens before us in real time and in the flesh. Television and film are—to me—far more impersonal. It’s equivalent to seeing a magician on TV, versus in person: it’s impressive on TV, but it’s magic in real life. I love the idea that the audience gives in to a sense of magic—the wonder of make believe—and I love the idea that as theater artists we are essentially playing with magic.

Is there a particular moment in this show that you really love or look forward to? Without giving away surprises, what happens in that moment and why does it jazz you?
I secretly always look forward to the "porn" section. I wrote that as a joke for my good friends Dave Delaney and Andrew Rosenberg (who both performed in the original production), and didn't think it could be kept. I have a very distinct memory of the three of us sitting in Andy's kitchen, laughing hysterically at the disgusting phrases that I'd found. It's the most fun I've ever had in a read-through or rehearsal.

Groucho, Chico, Harpo, or Zeppo?
Groucho. Without a shadow of a doubt.

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I do believe that theater can bring about societal change, although I do not think that changing the world is theater’s purpose. To me, the only job of a writer is to tell a good story; we have no other obligations. The societal change that is incurred by theater—to me—comes about on a larger scale than simply the immediate after-effects of seeing one particular play. I think by working on/ seeing theater, we are exposing ourselves to art and to the human condition. To watch a play, the audience must participate in some level of empathy and understanding—I think this is a vital ritual in every society, and I think it makes us better, both on the personal level, and on the group level. Theater is a way to deepen our own humanity, because like all art, it forces us to feel.