Lincoln Center Theater
 
 
 

The Writer Gets the Final Word

Jun 13, 2012

Movies are said to be a director's medium, and the theater a writer's. That's not really true: the movies, at least in Hollywood, and increasingly with the independent world, are a medium dictated by whomever holds the purse strings. By contrast, the theater, if we factor out the world of the packaged multi-million-dollar musical, can still be a place for the writer. This has certainly been the case with "Other Desert Cities." Every one of its actors - the Broadway run has included Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Rachel Griffiths, Elizabeth Marvel, Thomas Sadoski, Justin Kirk, Matthew Risch, and Judith Light - has told me emphatically that their experience of the production begins and ends with its script.

So it seemed only appropriate, as the engagement winds up at the Booth this weekend, for me to ask the playwright, Jon Robin Baitz, to tell us what the experience has been like and what he will be up to next.

Baitz replied:

Well, I am working on a play (comedy/or something?) about a dinner party that goes badly (or well?) on a snowy November election night. I also am trying to write a one-act play that is like an hour and five minutes, as an exercise in rigor and sharpness and tightness.

I am preparing a new syllabus for my Grad School students at New School for Drama, because I was not as well prepared last semester as I should have been. I am thinking about the screenplay for Other Desert Cities, and where to write it. (Palm Springs?) Broadway was glorious. A long run at that beautiful theatre is an amazing achievement. To have played an entire season on Broadway is a lot to think about all the time. It buzzes around inside of you. Every day you think about the show, and how it's going. How are your actors? Should I feel guilty for not seeing them more often?

I found it easier not to go a lot. Because you want to be able to move on as a writer without this thing, these old words rattling around in the cage that is my brain.

But when I did go, I would stand in the back, and take in this weird communality. All the ritual of it. Nightly. What was happening? What show were those people seeing? What brought them there?

Now there's about to be a clean clear silence for a while. Speaking of silence, I think the thing of the cellphones in the theatre has very very very deep implications about our ability to concentrate, meditate, and give over, surrender to The Moment. I don't think it's been quantified yet, the wrongness of total connectivity. I always saw a glow from a seat during the run of the show, any night I went, and stood in the back, and that glow fought the glow from the stage.

I, at least, need silence.

To write.

I'll have something by the end of the summer.

Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com

 

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