“The theatre,” says a character in my play The Diplomats, “is the only place where live people don’t lie to you about lying to you.” I set great store by what I think of as theatrical honesty. Many well-made and naturalistic plays proceed as though the world of the stage action existed independently of the audience. I view this as an over-emphasis on “the given circumstances” within the play, and an under-emphasis on the fact that it’s a play we’re talking about. I don’t believe that we should hide our craft from the audience or try to create slick-looking representations of “real life.” We can start by being theatrical, and by acknowledging theatre’s specific history. That is why,as a playwright, I employ intense language, hilarious action, theatrical tradition, and elliptical structure to honor the laughter, pain, and madness of being human together.
To me, creating TV-style dialogue and “taut,” coordinated character arcs are acts of bad faith. This kind of theatre tries to smooth over the fact that the audience is as this very moment in a theatre watching a play. Enough with “Sam, ever since Franny’s accident we’ve needed to talk about Mom’s health.” To me, the Passover seder, my favorite of all rituals, is in its self-surety and clarity more theatrical than the latest three-handed political thriller. Audiences become audiences by entering a special space where they hear and see that which is only true theatrically, right there and right then. This is not video on demand.
I am inspired by Meyerhold, Marlowe, Molière, medieval farce, miracle plays, Tanztheater, the Yiddish theatre, and Kabuki: they exhort me to be presentational and to embrace the audience. Let’s have actors cry, declaim, make evil asides, juggle, die, kill, make love, trick one another, mistake identities, lose their memories, give birth, beat each other with long sticks, see ghosts, be ghosts, dance, drink, disappear, despair, and above all lose and find each other in midnight gardens dark by convention. These are actions suited to the stage, mankind’s greatest laboratory for contextualizing live communication.
As theatre makers, we should be upfront with our audiences. We should encompass the current of the moment that viewers and actors share. We should be clear about where we physically are (a theatre). We should underline what the players are actually doing (playing a play). If we do this, we have increased the store of honesty in the course of human events.