Interview with Wally Shawn, Friday February 15, 2008 -- complete transcript

[NOTE: This interview is copyrighted 2008 and cannot be published or used in any way without written permission from Don Shewey.]

He arrived at my house heavily laden with two gymbag-like duffels stuffed with who-knows-what and another bag. He was wearing an overcoat and scarf and pullover sweater on top of another shirt, trousers, black shoes. He sat with me in my leather swivels, drank some Lapsang Souchong tea. I noticed at some point that he was clutching in his hand what looked like the screw-top from a bottle of Perrier or something, which he seemed to have had in his hand the whole time. He spoke in his usual careful and deliberate way.

I started by telling him how much I appreciated his performance of
The Fever under Scott Elliottís direction.

WS: Scott is a very very unsentimental person. Self-indulgence, or the self-love of the writer, is almost physically nauseating to him, really. So he Öduring the rehearsals he said more than once, ďOh, I can see that youíre particularly in love with that particular phrase that you wrote.Ē It was a pretty harsh comment. 

(DS: You felt that to mean you should not be in love with that phrase.)
No, he thought that the audience didnít care about the writing or who wrote it. The audience wanted to hear the story that the man was telling. And I was really entrusted with playing a character who had a particular story to tell. Not that the character had to have bizarre external features that I donít have. He didnít have to have a strange accent or strange mannerisms that would be alien to me. But it was not about me. So I sort of eliminated the person that I play every day from the play, to a certain extent. Which sped me up. Because when Iím me, Iím rather slow. But when I was not me, the reasons that Iím slow seemed to disappear suddenly, and it got very fast.

(That was very different from your previous experience of performing the play.)
Well, it was 15 minutes shorter.

(I canít remember whether you worked with a director beforeÖ)
No. When I did it the first time, I was not thinking of it really as theater.

(You had a whole other way of understanding the piece.)
Yes. I did not have a director. Weíll never know whether maybe more people would have appreciated it if Iíd had a director. Iíve always thought it was a mistake that I hadnít had one. Not at the time, but looking back on it.

(At the time, you didnít think of it as theater, even when you were doing it at the Public?)
I really didnít. I sort of thought, Iím using these theaters as a place where a group of people can gather and hear a guy talking. And indeed the piece of writing is written in the form of a play, because itís the story of a character. But in my mind it was more like something else, like a harangue on the street corner written in the form of a play and that was conveniently done in a theater. But it had some non-theatrical elements, including the fact that I didnít get any money for doing it and I got all the theaters to have an incredibly cheap ticket and there were no stage managers, I turned on the lights myself.

(You took no payment for performing at the Public?)
No. but I also didnít sign a contract with Joe Papp.

(You didnít make any money but he didnít make any money either.)

(So you saw the piece then as some combination of lecture, reading, soapbox harangue. And it was very different when you did it at the New Group.)
Yeah, at the New Group, we were really doing it as a play.

(And you changed the text substantially.)
Yes, I changed the text quite a bit.

(Did you do that just in rehearsal for that production, or had you been revising it all along?)
No, I did it in rehearsal for that production, and I might not have done it if somebody other than me had been performing it. But there I was. It is quite relevant to today, and I didnít particularly want to start off the whole thing by talking about someone in an electric chair because thatís not used anymore so it would be immediately saying, ďRelax, friends, this is not going to be about us, itís about people in the past.Ē That didnít seem right. So I played around with it.

(Of course because you were inhabiting it in interaction with an audience, thatís a whole other way of experiencing the play. Hearing about someone else doing it you wouldnít have had those thoughts.)
Right. I mean, I have had those thoughts. But of course it is in certain ways of a period. You know, it fits snugly in that period. But itís pretty relevant to todayís period, it just has a differentÖit comes off differently.

(The piece itself has a political/social content no matter how itís done. But the styles of theater of the two productions were so different. And the performance by you was so different.)
Yes. In the earlier oneÖanybody could say what they think about my acting, but itís a fact that I didnít go to RADA or really do the things actors do, or that I would have done if Iíd known I was going to be a professional actor, and so the last time even in small venues, I did shout, which was just to be heard. But itís sort of antithetical to the piece. Itís quite wrong to shout because a great deal of it is just meant to be thought. So in this case, Bruce Odland provided the incredible sound system, and most of the time I was mumbling. Not mumbling but speaking very very quietly so that it did seem like thought. And then every once in a while, it was much more outward-directed, and I would tell the story to the people in the room. 

(I experienced the New Group production, on one level, as very much about voice Ė the voice of the writer but also your voice and the way you used your voice, it was almost like a Beckett play Ė the way the voice was produced made a big impact on what we were understanding.)
It was clarifying in a way because you could sort of tell which parts were the person thinking things out for himself and struggling with himself, and which parts were in a way quite confident narrative to the audience. And then Jennifer Tipton was lighting it, in synch with the changes in sound, so Scott and Jennifer and Bruce all did this together in a coordinated way. So it was quite theatrical.

(Yeah, in a funny way that the production you did at the Public Theater was very Brechtian, no machinery. This was different, not a Brechtian style production. But the Beckettian focus on voice. But more or less the same text. Iím so impressed with the malleability of this text and the different ways it can manifest. Two things I want to ask you about that. One thing that fascinated me was that it showed your development of your voice as an actor, which has become a major asset to you in all these movies where youíve been playing characters just through your voice. Thatís one thing that happened between the two different productions of The Fever.)
Thatís true. Thatís absolutely right. Yes, I became a dinosaur. 

(Youíve inhabited many species!)
Iíve played many different types of creatures and animals. A man came to see me doing The Fever in San Francisco, and after I did the performance the man came up to me and gave me an enormous plastic dinosaur, and he said I want you to play this dinosaur in a movie. I was quite disoriented, being involved with The FeverÖ

(This was when you first did it?)
Yeah, this would have been in, maybe, 1990, 1991. And it was John Lassiter, who had invented the concept of Toy Story. That was very strange. 

(Not the response to the play you imagined when you were sitting in your room writing it for five yearsÖ)
I was so puzzled by this man. Yes, it changed my life. 

(So even if you didnít go to RADA, youíve now had tremendous experience acting in plays and movies.)
Oh, Iíve had a lot of experience. Iíve certainly been directed by, you know, an astounding number of directors.

(I looked you up on IMDB Ė youíve been in 114 movies or TV shows, and many that I hadnít heard of. Thatís a lot!)
That is a lot. 

(With The Fever, the other thing that was remarkable to me was that the very ending was quite different from the first time you did the play. I had remembered through the years, I could hear you saying the last sentences the first time around, and I was astonished when they werenít the last sentences of the play when you did it at The New Group.)
Yeah, I changed it throughout, because I had had, you know, an awful lot of years of seeing other people do it, and Iíve thought about it, and also people have talked to me about it, and there were things that a lot of people didnít understand. So this was my chance to clarify them.

(What kind of things did people not understand?)
Well, some things were, you know, thereís one part of the play that gets almost into the field of economics. And at one point I sort of say that if certain performances of opera occur, then certain other types of economic activity on that day wonít be happening and people might die as a result of that. Quite a lot of people have criticized that passage in the way it was originally written. They tried to show that I was wrong, when Iím obviously right. So that is an example of something that I rewrote a few million times to try to nail it in such a way that no one would fail to be convinced by what I was saying. 

Very near the end of the play, I asked the audience to forgive me. Which I honestly meant in the same way that in Elizabethan plays, the actors at the end say something like, well, I hope this play hasnít been too bad, or I hope youíve enjoyed it, or I hope you havenít been bored by it, thank you for indulging me in listening to it. But a lot of people, because the subject of the play is responsibility and the involvement of the better-off people in the oppression of the poor, a lot of people thought I was saying forgive me for everything Iíve done, which in a way would have been so shallow that it would have meant forgive me for everything Iíve done because Iím going to go on doing it. And, you know, forgive me for the things Iím going to do in the future, too. Which wasnít what I meant. But I knew a lot of people didnít get it. So thatís another example. I took that out. 

(Because it felt like letting the character off the hook?)
I didnít mean that. The way people were taking it, it was sentimental, it was as if I was pitifully asking, and they would not be the ones who would be forgiving me anyway. It was sort of stupid the way it was being interpreted. I was asking the whole universe to forgive me for everything Iíd ever done, which would be both sentimental and mindless, so I donít know, it was not at all what I had in mind.

(The way Iíd always taken it was that it was a representation of how we forgive ourselves as a way of not taking responsibility. A kind of blindness that we live. I took the play to be showing us our blindness in wanting Ö allow me to go along with my self-delusion.)
Right. Thatís exactly what I didnít want. I think I changed the entire ending. Because a lot of people took it to mean Ö well, because I make fun of the concept of quote-unquote gradual change, and I make fun of the small things that people think will make a difference. I say no they wonít make a difference. And so a lot of people, particularly those who would think of themselves as liberals but wouldnít know much about left-wing thinking, they took it to mean, oh, well, heís saying that all the things I believe in wonít change the condition of the poor, so heís basically saying nothing will ever change and donít even worry about it. Change is impossible. Whereas I meant for people to understand that the small things arenít enough, there should be big things. The situation is unbearable and intolerable and it has to change, and anything we can think of to make it change Ö weíre looking for ways to make a huge change, and Iím in favor of being an activist. I sort of assumed that people would take that for granted. Quite a few people didnít. So I sort of made it more clear that the character was confused, and at the end the character doesnít really know what heís going to do. He doesnít know whether heís going to change in any way at all or if this was just a night when he had a fever and he had a lot of strange thoughts. But at least the possibility should be raised that he might change. Either radically, or a little bit. Heís thinking wildly at the end, well, gee, maybe Iíll devote my whole life to trying to change the world and get thrown in jail fro it. Or even shot, you know. On the other hand, maybe I wonít change my whole life and I wonít go to jail, but Iíll march in the demonstration, which ten years ago I would have never done. That would be like me, personally, because, you know, I, uh, I, you know, never marched in a demonstration until I was in my fifties. 

(So with The Fever, and particularly at the end, youíre wanting the audience NOT to distance themselves from this character. To follow him and be with him in his self-questioning, is that right?)
Yes. The character, I mean, the way the form of the play is that the character is attacking himself and demolishing all of his self-defenses and the flattering illusions that he has about himself. But if a member of the audience is ready to go there, a lot of what Iím saying about myself as the character is true of them, and so, you know, in an ideal world they might be struck by the things being said and wonder whether they are part of the problem or part of the solution, as they used to say.

(And still do, sometimes.) 
Yeah, I mean, itís basically, itís quite, it has some pretty rough questions for anybody whoís willing to listen to it. And there are a handful of people who are already devoting their lives to change in the world. They donít have that much to worry about from my play. And quite a few of them came to the play, people who are really activists. But those who are mostly just consuming the oil that George Bush has brought to us through violence, those people should be somewhat worried by the questions raised in the play.

(What was the response of the activists who came to see the play?)
That was nice for me. Mostly Ö I mean, a lot of people figured these things out when they were teenagers. I didnít, because I had a lot of armor that had to be dismantled. But, you know, a lot of people who do great things in the world and struggle to make things better figured certain things out when they were kids. I mean, the big Ö itís not even a matter of Ö I mean, I was always a liberal, and I grew up around liberals and people who thought there were terrible problems in the world and that people should take steps to make the world better. Itís just the degree of urgency in that concern that separates the liberal from the radical. The liberal has a feeling that it can all be discussed in a very urbane, civilized way, and over time bit by bit things can be changed. The radical feels the anguish of people on the bottom too keenly for that and feels that change should have happened a long time ago and immediately isnít soon enough. 

(So Iím curious, and weíre all curious, where youíre going in your next play. I understand you have a new play and Iím curious what youíre willing to say about it.)
Uh, oh, I donít want to say much about it, but Iíll just say that, yeah, Iíve been working on a new play for ten years, Iíve finally finished it, and Iíll even say what itís called, which takes nerve on my part, cuz itís all been secret for ten years from everybody on earth, but anyway itís called Grasses of a Thousand Colors. And, um, uh, Iím not going to say anything about it except that people, itís been my practice at any rate up until now, I have really, uh, trusted my own instincts, uh, and Iíve felt, uhh, that, um, you know, I have my function in life, if I have one, it would be as some kind of, well, when I was a kid I knew a man from Czechoslovakia who had a passport that described himÖI mean, I think he got this during the war, the passport described his profession as a ďliterary writer,Ē which I always thought was fascinating. Other people I suppose were technical writers, maybe there were many different categories, but Iíve always thought that probably the best use of my talent would be as a literary writer. 

So itís, uh, you know, it would be a fantastic thing to have an impact on some specific problem in society, and I have absolutely no idea whether I could. Maybe if I said to myself, Iím going to write a play about capital punishment, and I want that play to have an influence on the debate about capital punishment in this country. I just donít know if I would have that ability or not. But Iíve sort of decided Iím not going to organize my life that way. And Iím going to sort of follow this strange, somewhat old-fashioned belief in the idea of inspiration and that your subject picks you. You donít pick the subject. And when I started writing I had no clear political opinions. Now I have some, but Iím still sort of decided that up until now at any rate I have stuck with the idea of seeing what happens.

(Both The Fever and The Designated Mourner reflect that. Theyíre not ignorant of or in denial about political realities, and yet theyíre written with a literary intention or perspective, a literary point of view. Not trying to persuade, to get anybody to agree or believe something.)
Well, I think The Fever tries to get people to believe, to convince. I think it is an attempt to convince. I mean, it wouldnít convince a Republican to become more left-wing. But it might convince a Democrat or a liberal to become more left-wing if they took it on seriously and brooded on it and if I wrote it well. That one is really a kind of attempt to convince. But it wasnít written that way on purpose. It started off, I didnít even know I was going to be writing on such subjects. It was written as an art object like everything else Iíve written. And yet it went that way, and I went with it.

(Did the new play surprise you where it took you?)
Yes. Yes. Iíll only say that. Yes, itís certainly not something that I would have planned or that anyone could plan. Itís just the way it turned out.

(Is there a timetable of when itís going to be produced or where?)
Well, Iím just going to say, because otherwise this could ruin it, our interview. Iím just going to say Iím in high-level discussion with top world leaders, and in due course there will be Ö the plans will be revealed. It wonít be done in 2008, thatís for sure. I think itíll happen in 2009. 

(NY or London?)
Iím too frightened to say. I have Ö everybody knows the realities in New York. Thereís one important review per play, and in London there are eight. Now which sounds more welcoming, you know? If the choice were one review or eight reviews, yíknow, thereís something very attractive about the idea of getting eight reviews because, yíknow, there could well be some people who like you. ANDÖin New York the one review is actually more influential than all eight combined in England. People in New York are, uh, in their decisions about theater, theyíre more guided by criticism than I think a lot of people in England are, because, uh, um, people go to more plays over there. The other thing is that, itís, uh, of course here the goal is, for me at any rate, to try to convince people who donít go to plays to go to my plays. And thatís hard to do. Thatís very hard to do. Most people who go to plays are people who love theater, which means people who love theater the way it is right now, which in a way doesnít include me. 

I wouldnít really say that Iím someone who loves theater the way it is right now. 

(But when you go to the theater, you go with a hope that itíll be different from the status quo or something that appeals to you, right?)
Well, I have two identities, really, as a theatergoer. I mean, as a, if Iím going in a way as the guy who writes the plays, Iím somewhere between critical and appalled by most of what I might see. But the reality is that Iím also, I have the theater gene. I really like going to plays. And I really love watching actors. And in a certain way I actually enjoy probably a higher proportion of what I see than most people because I tend to Ö if there are five people onstage and one of them is giving a wonderful performance, in my opinion, Iím pretty happy, and Iím looking at the one who in my opinion is giving the wonderful performance and Iím really enjoying the evening.

(So itís sort of the writer in you and the actor in you, the connoisseur of writers vs. the connoisseur of actors Ė those are two different people who co-exist and have very different responses to what you see, is that what you mean?)
I wouldnít put it that clearly. If I were to write an article in which I would discuss an entire season in New York, I would probably feel that the institution of theater as a whole was not offering what I wish it would be offering. And I think that a lot of it is not very, how do I say this, the choices made are not necessarily that clever. And so I know all too many people who came to New York with the high hope of going to a lot of theater, they went to 3 or 4 things, and they thought, ďWell, these are rather stupid, and I donít have time to watch them. So Iím not going to go to any more plays.Ē On the other hand, if I myself go to the theater, I frequently enjoy the texts in some way. And even if I donít enjoy the texts, I enjoy some of the actors. I enjoy sitting in the theater and watching a play. So thatís my particular Ö Iím one of those people who has that theater gene. Thereís no question about it. I do have it. And if you said to me, ďYouíre going to go to a play tonight Ė actually, itís not a very good play,Ē Iíd still sort of be looking forward to it. Iíd be thinking, oh good, Iím going to a play tonight, thatíll be really funÖeven though I might trust you and yeah, itís not going to be that great.

The problem for me as an audience, or the problem for me as a writer is that, see, Iím not saying Iím a good writer or a bad writer, but to even possibly enjoy what I do, or get something out of it, definitely requires some kind of very lively Öin order to benefit from seeing one of my plays, or in order to enjoy it, there has to be a very active engagement on the part of the audience member. So youíve gotta be looking at the play with sort of active intelligence that you would apply if you were, letís say, going to a concert of classical music, you have to listen to it, you have to actively engage in it and follow it or you wonít really get much out of it. You canít just sort of lie there half-asleep. It wonít affect you.

Well, if the plays are mostly not very good and the more demanding members of the audience give up on theater, and you have an audience that is not very demanding, a lot of those people will be rather passive. They wonít be giving to the evening what needs to be given, if people arenít meeting you halfway, so they donít like it. So they just think, well, heís not a very good writer. And maybe theyíre right, but thatís not the point. The point is, you couldnít even begin to like it if youíre just sitting there as a blob. So, you know, Iíd like to get some of those people who gave up a long time ago to come see my plays, and thatís hard to do. Very hard to find those people and get them to come, cuz they really donít want to come. I mean, they donít read the theater page, and theyíre looking at that just the way I donít read the wrestling page. There could be wrestling of an incredibly high caliber going on but I wouldnít know because I donít hear about it, I donít think about it, itís not on my screen.

(You never search for wrestling on YouTube, Wally? No, I love what youíre saying about how you would like an audience to interact with your work, and Iím curious to know what the impact has been of Scott Elliott taking an interest in your work and producing several of your plays and pulling you into the New Group orbit. Tell me about that.)
Well, itís changed my life, really, that this one individual has decided that heís interested in my writing. Itís a very, itís quite surprising. In other words, the American theater Ė there are thousands of people involved in it, many of them reading the magazine that weíre talking for. But I donít have anything to do with the American theater. I am only involved in a weird, avant-garde thing that Andre Gregory and I do, which is not really part of the mainstream of American theater. Scott Elliott is actually a significant leader in the American theater, in the center of it all really, if you want to look at it that way, even though by temperament heís an angry young man or whatever you want to call it. I donít know what made him take an interest in me, and I would never want to know. I wouldnít ask him. But itís given me a feeling of, uh, well, Iíve derived enormous energy, strength, and pleasure from the fact of his enthusiasm and the fact that heís put on so much of my work. And heís courageously, you know, stuck with me even though heís been slapped down for it. Heís gotten more punishment than reward for his association with me, and yet heís stuck with me and heís still very very committed to me. 

He is also an inspired director. He has the gift. He has that very very specific talent for theatrical combustion. For doing things that live on the stage.

(I think of even the way he did Aunt Dan and Lemon, how unsettling it was to come into the theater and there is Lili Taylor sitting on stage looking at you, very intently and very alive from the moment you walked in. It was a very different experience of that play than I remembered from before. So Iím wondering if in the context of The New Group and the kind of plays that Scott produces there creates the relationship with the audience that you dream of, or not necessarily.)
Well, I think that he has definitely created a group of people who know that they certainly will not be snoozing when they go to his theater, so there are none of those snoozing people. They really donít go there. And thatís, uh, a wonderful thing. But you know, to bring everybody that I would like to come is terribly terribly terribly hard. Theyíre in New York City.

(Who would you like to come?)
Well, for instance, I remember an evening that I went to, and Iíd seen some plays around this same time, before and after, and then one night I went to a reading, where Naomi Klein was launching her book, uh, uh, the Shock, what is it called, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, The Shock Doctrine. This was a reading that she gave at the Society for Ethical Culture. Well, it was an auditorium, people were sitting in seats, looking at the stage. But the brains were on fire, what can I say? The people in the audience were not just meeting Naomi Klein halfway, they were Ö it was like hungry dogs being thrown meat by Naomi Klein. They were leaning forward so far they were practically on the stage. And they were responding to every word that she said. And they were just very very very alive. And you sort of thought, Oh, well, couldnít these people, couldnít I stand up and say, hey, Iím doing a play tomorrow, why donít you all come to it tomorrow, Iíll give you free tickets. Yeah, cuz, I can tell you, a lot of the people who were there, Iím going to bet that they go to between zero and one play a year, closer to zero. Of course a lot of the people there were rather young. And thereís a physical restlessness related to being young and an intellectual restlessness. Itís not unrelated to the way old, old people feel, which is: is this worth my time, because I donít have that much time. Which is a good standard. I meanÖ

I mean, putting it differently, uh, if you go, I mean, every night in New York City, not every night, but almost every night in NYC incredible classical music is being played. Now, if you go to hear, letís say, a concert of, I donít know, Beethoven and Schoenberg, thereís so much content in the course of an hour and a half. I mean, thereís a lot going on that you experience there. How many plays offer as much to you in an hour and a half? What kind of people would rather go to the play, which offers, you know, like, I donít know, three sprigs of broccoli, rather than the concert, which is offering a banquet?

(Well, thereís whatís offered and thereís whatís eaten. I donít know if everybody who goes to a concert at Carnegie Hall experiences the richness of the content that you might. I think a lot of people sleep through classical music concerts.)
They may, but that totally mystifies me. Why would they go? But youíre right. You see people there who seem to be half-asleep. That to me is a bigger mystery to me than why they would go to a play. A play at least you see members of your own species doing things that remind you of your own life. If you go to Beethoven and you donít like Beethoven, you get nothing. I donít know why they go.

(Iím glad that TCG is publishing these two plays Ė is there a name to the anthology?)
No, itís just Our Late Night and A Thought in Three Parts.

(Which are two plays that are hardly ever performed.)
Well, Our Late Night has been around now for, letís see, 35 years, and I guess itís had, I think, 4 performances in the history of its life. Four productions.

(Thatís two more than I know of.)
Ah, A Thought in Three Parts has been done twice in England, but in this country it was done as a workshop by Joe Papp but never opened. But in the Ö I mean, the American premiere took place last year in Austin. The Rubber Repertory Company did an unbelievably beautiful production of the play and I hope theyíll bring it to New York. And I would love if there were to be a picture of the Rubber Repertory Company with this article, because it was absolutely fabulous and they want to come to NY and do it and I want them to. In some strange way. It was wonderful. Theyíre a fantastic company. I mean, they had done The Fever and theyíd done The Designated Mourner. And itís run by these two guys. They came to NY, they saw The Music Teacher, and they came up to me at The Music Teacher and they said, ďWe want to do A Thought in Three Parts." And I said, ďWell, you want to do it, but I donít think youíll really do it, because nobodyís ever really done it. Why would you do it?Ē Lo and behold, I got a message they were actually doing it. So I went to Texas and saw it. They did it, and the audience totally gobbled it up, because they were, they identified with it from the first minute. They were into it. It was beautifully directed, beautifully acted. It wasÖand you know, in a way, Iím bitter, angry, whatever. On the other hand, Iím incredibly, when something like that happens, Iím unbelievably humbled. Itís mind-boggling really. Because nobody made them do it. I didnít convince them to do it. They didnít know me. They just read these words on a page and said weíd like to do this. 

(I hope it comes to NY. Iím dying to see it.)
Weíre looking for different possibilities of how it could be done here, and Iím very very determined that it must be. Iím not forcing it to come. They said to meÖbecause it was the toast of Austin, it was incredibly popular. Then a wonderful man who lives in Marfa, TX, said, I want to bring you all to do the play in Marfa, and they did. And it was the toast of Marfa.

(Marfa is its own context, too. Didnít they do the play in Australia too?)
No, they did The Designated Mourner, not A Thought in Three Parts.

(Has DM been done a lot?)
Oh no, practically not at all. 

(But several productionsÖAustralia, AustinÖothers?)
Well, itís been done in other countries. Itís been done in Hamburg, Germany, it was done in Mexico, which was wonderful. Sweden, I saw it in Stockholm, which was fabulous.

(Again I would imagine they were vastly different styles, like the difference between David Hareís production and Andre Gregoryís were mind-boggling.)
Huge differences. Huge differences. Greece, wonderful production in Greece. Yíknow, so itís, no, I feel Iím somewhat, I have, Iím a very lucky guy really. But no, in the United States itís been done at Steppenwolf, and letís say the regional theaters did not clamor to do The Designated Mourner.

(DM is difficult. To do it really well is difficult.)
It is difficult.

(I always thought Our Late Night is a play that would be ideal for Steppenwolf and/or the New Group to do.)
Well, Steppenwolf did OLN in 1975, when John Malkovich was 19. But I couldnít afford to go and see it, and everybody warned me that it was gonna be a terrible experience if I did go. Of course now I think I was insane. I should have borrowed or stolen money or done anything to see it. But somehow it didnít happen.

(Has Scott considered doing the play?)
I donít know. Youíd have to ask him. Itís a strange play. Yes, if I were a director, I would think itís rather enticing. Cuz Ö well, you know that Caryl Churchill directed it in England. The Royal Court had a strange kind of idea briefly where they asked a group of people to direct thingsÖ

(Artistís choice.)
So that was wonderful, a thrilling production. Itís quite lively. But you know, Iím not the guy they ask about why they donít do my work.

(This is the first time itís being published as a book. Has it been available in a Dramatists Play Service edition?)
No. Right now is the first time theyíre widely available.

(I just want to ask you if thereís anything more you want to say about Grasses of A Thousand Colors Ė how many characters are in it, or what itís in general aboutÖ)
Four characters. Just say high-level plans are being made, and prominent world leaders will announce the whole thing when itís official. 

No, I was going to say that one thing that is happening to me that I would love the readers to know that the CD of The Music Teacher will be available by time this article comes out. The CD is on Bridge Records. It has, you know, itís a CD, it doesnít have the long monologue and dialogue passages, itís the musical. Itís the sung part, with many of the same singers.

(I only found out last night that The Fever is out on CD.)
The Fever does exist Ö (he seems to indicate that he doesnít like it) Itís quite a good car tape, Iíve been told. 

(DM is available, The Fever is available in the Vanessa Redgrave version, so youíre in all these other media. I donít know if itís a sore subject, but Iím desperate to see the movie of Marie and Bruce.)
Well, the movie of Marie and Bruce is moving toward the public in one way or another. It is, I feel itís a marvelous film that everybody should see. But at the moment no one can see it. But it is slowly moving toward the public. But it is a fantastic film, with Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick, directed by Tom Cairns, who did The Music Teacher. I hope that in one form or another the public will be allowed to see that one. 

Basically, you know, people who have absolutely, uh, experience of my particular way of writing and who are expecting an ordinary drama maybe it wasnít that.

(And what about The Master Builder Ė will it ever be shown?)
Well, Andre and I have been working on it for over ten years with the same group of actors. But itís all an exercise in, what did they use to call it, crockpot cookeryÖslow cooking. Weíll see. I mean, well, thereís some kinks in the capitalist system, because, well, the concept of supply and demand is very very abstract. I think there are a lot of people who might demand some of these things if theyíd already seen them, if they already knew about them. And if theyíd seen the first one, theyíd demand the second one. But if theyíve never heard of them, how can they demand them?

(And of whom would they demand them?)
Right, well, thatís the magic of the market. Supposedly, they would mysteriously appear in the market if the demand was there. This is where the system has some kinks in it.

(Iím one of the people who, if I knew from whom to demand, to see Andre Gregoryís production of The Master Builder, I would but I donít know whom to petition. Besides you.)

(Tell us, and we will mount an internet campaign! Is that what it takes, a commercial producer?)
No, I was thinking of everything Iíve done in my life, as a whole. Everything is easier if somehow demand has reached the level where people are clamoring. If there were a lot of people like you, a lot of things would be easier. 

(Itís hard to know what ďa lot of peopleĒ is Ė a few thousand, a few million, the George Trow grid of one person vs. grid of one million.)

(Anything else you want to play or finish up? Is there a director involved with Grasses of a Thousand Colors? Or is that one of the things you canít divulge?)
Iím going to talk about it all at once.

(Those of us who are Wally Shawn fans are eager for the manifestation of this new work.)
I mean, Iím, if weíre sort of doing a review of my life, I suppose I would say that the only thing we havenít touched on in my writing life is I did devote three years of my life to my translation of Brecht, which I believe in, and I feel itís going to be a fight until my death, Iím going to ultimately , I will fight for the right of my translation to live. Because I sincerely believe it is the most faithful to the spirit of Bertolt Brecht. And I believe itís going to be a fight until deathÖ

(To get it published or produced more widely?)
Iím going to say for the moment, to allow it to live. Because there are a lot of different fights. But I think Iím not going to get into that in this article.

(Thatís a whole other conversation which Iíd love to have. I was aware itís a big subject and itís Ö)
But itís a very big conversation because it involves not just me but Tony Kushner and other Ö mine is the most complex because it involves Brecht and Weill, but the subject of Brecht in English is a very hot topic and a very interesting topic. This is a very very important playwright, and well, Craig Lucas is also working on a translation of Brecht. 

(Which one?)
I knew the answer to that a few weeks ago.

(One of the ones we all know?)

(Not Good Person, not Caucasian Chalk Circle.)
It could be one of those two. And of course Tony did Mother Courage.

(He also did Good Person.)

(But thereís an issue with the estate over who gets to publish and who gets to produce their adaptation?)
Yes, because the Weill estate Ö if someone wants to do The Threepenny Opera, the Weill estate has to approve the production. So they can disapprove. If the people go to the Weill estate and say weíre all going to do it wearing funny hats, the Weill estate will say we donít want you to do it. 

(Were you happy with Scottís production?)
I adored it, I thought it was the most amazing group of performers.

(I wish I agreed. I so didnít like the production, the style didnít work for me.)
How would youÖturn off that tape recorder and tell me how you would characterize your objectionsÖ.