Richard Maxwell talks theater, archetypes, and audience with Soho Rep director Sarah Benson Feb 11, 2015
Playwrights Richard Maxwell and Sarah Benson talk theater archetypes, death, writing, the creation of "The Evening" and much more on the Walker blog:
I know the show has evolved a lot during your process so far. What’s it become?
It’s become a story about characters, and I’m working with archetypes. We have this bartender character who’s also possibly a prostitute, so we have this “hooker with a golden heart”, and then there’s the fighter, the warrior character, who’s trying to make a comeback, the aging prize-fighter. And then you have Jim playing the corrupt manager. I’m trying to carve out these shapes that we follow. I’m looking at what’s the difference between a person and a character.
So what is it for you here?
I’m looking for examples. Like fighting. People can fight as a character on stage in a way that they couldn’t as a person, as they could get dangerously injured!
Yes, things can happen to characters that can’t happen to people. You can put characters in situations that we aspire to or are afraid of and can’t embody as people. The laws of physics trap us, the laws of society trap us, social norms trap us.
The social trappings are a big part of this play, in terms of these archetypes. Cammisa’s character develops hints of agency as a being. Characters don’t have agency. They are subject to the whims of the creator, in this case me. I’m investigating if there’s some way for these characters to escape the wrath of me. I give Cammisa this potential for agency, and she starts talking about escaping and getting out. In the context of the play it’s about a trip to Istanbul. And it’s clear right off the bat that Brian and she have some intense relationship that is probably ending. There’s a big fight that happens between Brian and Jim that Cammisa also inserts herself into, and in the aftermath of that fight they start talking about things that are not part of the story. It’s starts with Jim saying, “I like this place,” and he’s ordering jello shots, and what I’m going for is that you, as a viewer, are wondering if they are getting drunk or whether some other kind of element is taking over their conversation. The text takes on shapes, which I’m really interested in, and then hopefully without you being too aware as a viewer you’re in a new place… And then eventually there’s a collapse.
When you were talking about the trappings, that’s a really nice point of how characters differ from people. And yet we want as viewers for them to behave like people!
It’s this funny paradox. We as viewers like to see characters who can do things we can’t do. But we hold them to standards of consequence that are based in standards of what’s logical.
And all of this is, of course, framed by my dad’s death. His dying came at a time when I should have been really working on figuring out what this show is, and it didn’t make sense for me to shut that out. There was no way to.
The minutes as they wound down became more and more precious. That was something I was trying to pay attention to. So what happened in this play became a way to eulogize. It’s not really a lamentation. I don’t want it to be so solemn. It’s not how I want to eulogize my dad, but there are strange connections that I can’t really defend.
Structurally and thematically, there are similarities between Samara andThe Evening. Even though Samara is set in a much more mythical bar, somewhere we recognize far less than in, say, the bar in The Evening, it’s still this place that ultimately disappears and this much more cosmic journey takes over. They seem to both be looking at the interconnectedness of everything and how energy never goes away, it just shows up somewhere else.
It makes me think about cataclysm. There’s a collapse within both the plays. A critical difference between the two plays is that in Samara you have an escape and a yearning to return home and in The Evening you have escape and a yearning for finding a new place.
photo by Juri Junkov.