Dialogue 6.5: Andy Bragen

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THERE IS SUCH INTIMACY TO A ONE-PERSON PLAY— in the writing, in the performance. And when the script is crafted by as accomplished a playwright as Andy Bragen, it makes for a truly remarkable and distinctly theatrical experience. In The Dowager, Tanya housesits and drinks wine and tries to find peace in a disrupted life that unpeels like a vinegarsoaked onion. It’s a beautifully constructed play; Tanya’s fractured narration develops like a great jazz solo, circling and flirting with a melody we think we’ve heard before, taking us someplace both unexpected and familiar. With a composer’s touch, Andy expands and contracts the tempo, marries dissonance and harmony, and explores variations on a theme. The theme, in this case, is loneliness—the sense of displacement that comes with not having somewhere concrete (and emotional) that feels like home. Tanya is alone in someone else’s apartment, abandoned by the cat she’s supposed to be feeding, and even the pizza delivery person is a no-show. Lacking the counterpoint of another person to anchor her, Tanya’s sense of what is real—and along with it, the audience’s—becomes fuzzy. Andy’s versatile work continues to impress us and our producing partners around the country. Andy is a previous Jerome Fellow, and he is now in his third Core Writer year with us. He was the first playwright selected for our collaboration with the Network of Ensemble Theaters, a grant which connected him with Theater Grottesco to work on Mobro. We held a successful (smaller) workshop of The Dowager at the Playwrights’ Center in 2011, and it’s exciting to see how the piece has continued to develop. I hope you can join us April 1 for what will surely be a memorable night.



IN THE LAB Highlights from our renowned development center As this is our final Dialogue of the season, and as we have an extraordinary number of writers coming through the Lab in the next few months for play development workshops, we wanted to share with you some of that work. If you are interested in connecting with any of our writers or would like details on our upcoming workshops, contact Associate Artistic Director Hayley Finn at 612-332-7481 x119 or hayleyf@pwcenter.org. MAR 7–8 MAR 11–13 MAR 14–15 MAR 18–22 MAR 19–21 MAR 20 MAR 25–27 APR 15–19 APR 16 APR 22 APR 23 APR 24–26 APR 1

Mat Smart Barbara Field Gregory Moss Carson Kreitzer Anna Moench Christina Ham Trista Baldwin Cory Hinkle Miré Regulus Winter Miller Taous Claire Khazem Martín Zimmerman

APR 29–MAY 1 MAY 7–8 MAY 13–14 MAY 14–17 MAY 20–21 MAY 22–24 MAY 29–31 JUN 3–5 JUN 19–21 JUN 24–25 JUN 26–28

Dan Dietz Christina Anderson Victoria Stewart Christina Ham Marion McClinton Lee Blessing Keli Garrett John Olive Ricardo Vazquez Marcus Gardley Kira Obolensky


BY ANDY BRAGEN Tanya is trying to cat-sit, but the cat is nowhere to be found. She has ordered pizza, but the pizza boy won’t arrive. She has all kinds of plans—but how do you pursue them when your life has become another person’s subplot? Written for one actress and one large, mysterious trunk, The Dowager is a fractured journey through the mind and memory of a woman stung by betrayal. STAGED READING • 7 PM • FREE • AT THE PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER RESERVE SEATS: INFO@PWCENTER.ORG • (612) 332-7481





ANDY BRAGEN YOU’VE WORKED ON SOME INCREDIBLE SHOWS IN YOUR THREE YEARS AS A CORE WRITER, INCLUDING THE DOWAGER. WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING A ONE-PERSON SHOW? WHAT EXCITED YOU ABOUT WRITING IN THAT FORM? One challenge originates with the relationship between the performer or character and the audience. Is the audience another kind of character? Are they in conversation? I think the form also has its obstacles in that it’s not always inherently theatrical, so how do you find what is dramatic in it? How do you make it theatrical? I’m writing more “plays for one actor” than necessarily “solo shows.” I think I’m also interested in the idea of an unreliable narrator, and the couple of one-person shows I’ve written deal with that a bunch. TANYA’S STORY IS REVEALED SO SLOWLY, IT’S ALMOST LIKE A GOOD MYSTERY. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO BELIEVE, BECAUSE, AS YOU’VE SAID, SHE’S AT TIMES AN UNRELIABLE NARRATOR. COULD YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE STRUCTURE OF THE PLAY? I think there are a couple of things going on where Tanya’s at a turning point in her life and she’s trying to figure out which direction to take. She’s also very lonely, I think. One of the inspirations for the piece was an extraordinary play by Botho Strauss called Big and Little: Scenes. It opens with a character alone onstage overhearing a conversation. She’s on vacation in Morocco, and it’s sort of about her loneliness and her attempts to connect. In The Dowager, the character of Tanya is both creating her own world, in terms of fantasizing and inventing the people that she’s talking to, and also overhearing what seems to be an actual conversation from the window below. So she bounces between ideas while centering in on what it is that she actually wants and needs to do. Parts of it are internal in terms of debate, but it’s very externalized. Whatever she’s going through, we see her going through it. YOU HAVE TANYA, THE MAIN CHARACTER, AND THEN YOU HAVE HER TRUNK. HOW DID THE IDEA OF THE TRUNK COME ABOUT? I think the original idea for the trunk came from a show by Fiasco Theater. It was a six-person Cymbeline, and they had a giant trunk. They popped in

and out of it, and I liked that idea. There are two Tanyas: the older Tanya, the Tanya who’s gone, who lived in the Sierras, and the younger Tanya, who is the main character, who has inherited this trunk that seems to contain all of the belongings of the older Tanya, and may in fact contain everything that the younger Tanya is as well. I’ve enjoyed focusing the play around the trunk, creating a play that is very simple and only requires that single object. AND WHATEVER’S INTERNAL IS IN THE TRUNK—A PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF HER INNER SELF? Right. And I think she moves toward finding a kind of peace, and I think she learns how to be alone. Watching her go through that is, I hope, dramatic. AND THERE’S ALSO A LOT OF HUMOR IN THE PIECE. CAN YOU SPEAK A BIT TO THAT? The character’s funny; I think she’s very smart. She amuses herself sometimes, and hopefully amuses us as an audience. She has a sort of wicked sense of humor about it all. I think that’s very important to the play: her entertaining herself and entertaining us as well.


I THINK SOME OF THE HUMOR COMES FROM TANYA BEING A HOUSESITTER AND WHAT A STRANGE EXPERIENCE THAT CAN BE. HAVE YOU HOUSESAT, AND HAS THAT INFLUENCED THE PLAY AT ALL? Yeah, I’ve definitely housesat, or I’ve even had longer-term rentals when I was younger, living among someone else’s furniture. And back when I spent two years in grad school, followed by a year in Minneapolis, a friend of mine spent three years in my New York apartment. And she’s certainly not at all the character, but maybe I thought about her—all her stuff on top of all my stuff in my apartment. It was kind of fascinating, because it was sort of her place and my place. I would stay there when I was in New York as well, found myself housesitting in my own apartment, among a strange amalgam of clutter and personalities. WHEN DID YOU START WRITING PLAYS, AND WHAT DRAWS YOU TO THEATER? I’ve been writing plays for quite a while. I started doing a little bit of it in college and started taking it more seriously after that. I had the good fortune of studying with Tina Howe in my 20s, and she really taught me a lot about theater and what’s exciting about it. There’s the potential for great variety of form. I’ve written a lot of different kinds of plays, ranging in size from 1 to 13 characters, some linear, some not. So I always feel like I can approach it with a beginner’s mind, and I can find something new. What’s also exciting is engaging with an audience. That experience, both of collaborating with actors and a director and with showing work to an audience, keeps the work grounded and real and means you’re engaging and not simply wandering off into your own head and thoughts. It’s a great continuing challenge. WHAT ELSE ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW? I’m working on a new play called Don’t You Fucking Say a Word, which comes out of an incident I had with a good friend of mine. Toward the end of a very long match on a public tennis court, just above the Williamsburg Bridge, we nearly got in a fist fight. I’m a relatively mild-mannered individual, but something in this moment—the heat, the humidity, the length and closeness of the match—brought us to this place. That’s the launching point and the play sort of spins out from there. I guess you could call it the third of a loose trilogy of plays about things related to tennis hackers (meaning committed if not necessarily gifted players)—my “tennis trilogy,” if you will. Of course, for many people tennis has class implications, when in fact my experience of tennis growing up on the Lower East Side and playing on those public

courts, it’s not that cliché of tennis. It’s a kind of grungier, middle class, more urban game very different than the “Myth of Wimbledon” or lawn tennis or whatever. I KNOW YOU SEE A LOT OF THEATER. WHAT THEATER INSPIRES YOU? I loved Melissa James Gibson’s What Rhymes With America, and also her play This which ran a couple years ago. I think she’s pretty incredible. Wallace Shawn, Sarah Ruhl. Albee continues to amaze me. John Guare, Tina Howe, Fornes, Shepard. I really love a lot of those writers of the early 70s, that generation that’s still writing. Some incredible writers, with incredible scope and imagination. Sometimes I fear that we are less adventurous than the generation before us, and I think we should strive to live up to that legacy.


WHAT ARE YOUR INFLUENCES BESIDES THEATER? I read a lot of novels, and a lot of the exploration of space and city is interesting to me. Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence was fascinating, as was his memoir Istanbul. Teju Cole’s Open City, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, the novels of Ishiguro and Bolaño, of Jennifer Egan. There’s a lot of great fiction out there these days. Also, my work with the jazz saxophonist John Ellis has been central to me. We did one project, Mobro, supported by a partnership with the Playwrights’ Center and Network of Ensemble Theaters and working with Theater Grottesco. Hearing and seeing how John works and how jazz musicians work and collaborate and how he composes for them has been really fascinating and has influenced my work.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT WRITING PLAYS? BESIDES PLAYING TENNIS. Yeah, tennis. I read a lot. I enjoy my wife’s wonderful cooking. I watch a lot of movies and walk around the city I was born in and love. At the moment I have a one-year day job teaching at Franklin & Marshall College, which has been fun and interesting. I’m also starting to work a little bit more in the film and television world. I had a play, Ranch Home, which got optioned last year, and I’ve done a bunch of work on that screenplay. For fun? I love my neighborhood, I love my city. I wander around the East Village, and down by the East River, to the tennis courts. Interview by Associate Artistic Director Hayley Finn.

PROJECT JOURNEY The Dowager was originally developed in the 24/7 Lab in New York City. It had workshops at Barnard College in 2011 and 2012, and a workshop at the Playwrights’ Center in November 2011. It returns to the Playwrights’ Center April 1, 2013 for a workshop and public reading.

THE PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER CHAMPIONS PLAYWRIGHTS AND PLAYS TO BUILD UPON A LIVING THEATER THAT DEMANDS NEW AND INNOVATIVE WORKS. The Playwrights’ Center fuels the theatrical ecosystem with new ideas, new talents and new work—the future of the American theater. One of the nation’s most generous and wellrespected artistic organizations, the Playwrights’ Center focuses on both supporting playwrights and bringing new plays to production. Work developed at the Playwrights’ Center has been seen on stages nationwide. This activity is made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State’s general fund and its arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008, and a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota.

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