The Morning The Sun Fell Down playwright Jonathan Caren and director Mia Rovegno
chat about their upcoming reading, which will be part of tt of the Welcome Mat reading
series. The reading takes place Monday, 5/7, at 7:30. FREE. (330 West 16th)
JC: PHEW! I can’t wait to see you! How have you been Mia?
MR: I’ve been great Jon! I can’t wait to get back in the room with you and The Morning
the Sun Fell Down. The play has changed so much since we were last in the rehearsal
room together. What excites me most about working on this play is how funny and
heartbreakingly honest the characters are. You have us staggering on that crazy line
between laughing and crying from the moment the play begins. I’m thrilled to dig back
into the Hauser family dynamic on this new draft with our stellar cast!
JC: I have 400 pages of this play that I’ve had to condense. There’s no shortage of
material when writing about family. I grew up with polar opposite parents. My mother is
a free spirited hippy artist and my father, a pragmatic doctor. I’m exploring the effects of
contrasting parenting styles and the triangles that occur when we have to align ourselves
with one over the other. This play explores the difficulty of separating from our families
as adults, especially when they need us. Talk about conflict! Tell me what you’ve been
MR: I just finished working on a great new play by Johnna Adams, Alcestis in Baghdad,
produced by the MFA Playwrights Festival at Hunter College, where I’m a professor
in the Theater Department. It’s a beautiful play about a midwestern housewife who
shows up unannounced in Baghdad, believing she’s on a mission from the god Apollo
to sacrifice herself in order to save her soldier husband’s life. It’s a piece that beautifully
juxtaposes the mythological epic journey with the contemporary family drama. I know
you just got back into town from being on the west coast. What have you been up to
since I last saw you?
JC: ME? I’ve been re-working The Morning The Sun Fell Down. Before that, I was at
The Old Globe in San Diego with my play The Recommendation, directed by Jonathan
MR: Congrats on your Old Globe production! Can you tell me more about the play?
JC: It’s a highly theatrical story about class boundaries and I was very proud of its first
production. I’ve also spent some time in Los Angeles with my family, thinking about film
and TV, but who doesn’t think about those things? Oddly enough, being home with my
family put me in the perfect position to work on The Morning The Sun Fell Down.
MR: So you did a lot of thinking about Film and TV in LA. Can you expand on that?
JC: Well before I came back to New York I was working on a network show, gearing up
for a life in TV. I took a break from it when I got into Juilliard because it was always a
dream to be working in theater and I now see how tricky it can be to cross mediums, but
it’s possible when done correctly. I think people like Sarah Treem and Carly Mensch do
it well. But when you’re running a TV show and you’re on the level of a Liz Meriwether
it seems a lot harder to balance.
MR: If you had been in NY, what two things would you be thinking about instead of TV
and film? In Kathmandhu? Tokyo?
JC: In New York I’m way more social and busy keeping up with the cool stuff everyone
else is doing. Definitely no shortage of friend art. If I was in Kathmandhu I’d probably
think about the durability of my shoes. I’d want a lot of pairs of clean socks. Tokyo,
I’d feel a handicap with the language barrier and be incredibly tempted to take a train to
Jigokudani Park in Nagano to see the macaques bathing in the hot springs. Me and the
macaques– we speak the same language. How’d you know Tokyo and Kathmandu are
on my destination wish lists. Are you psychic?
MR: I knew you were going to ask me that question! Don’t we all tap into clairvoyance,
though, sooner or later? You don’t have to answer that. I already know what you’re going
to say! Jon, as a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
JC: There was a long period where I just wanted to be Marty McFly in Back to The
Future. I would’ve settled for Indiana Jones or Venkman from Ghostbusters. I guess it’s
appropriate that I aspired to be fictional characters in movies rather than map out a career.
MR: I can relate. I dreamt of growing up to become the perfect hybrid of Watts and
Amanda Jones from Some Kind of Wonderful. Seems like Lea Thompson was pretty
important to both of us in the 80’s, eh? Speaking of that formative time, your play takes
place in Santa Barbara, close to where you were born and raised. Your ability to capture
the essence of Southern California in the atmosphere of the play is pitch perfect. What are
three of your favorite things about Santa Barbara living?
JC: I like the sound of the train at night. Where my mom lives, you hear it at 2am, 4am,
6am, it seeps into your dreams. I like wearing flip-flops. And hiking in the Santa Ynez
mountains, passing the estates in Montecito, wondering about the people who live behind
those gates. Those houses are massive. What’s it like to have your own private empire
in paradise? It must make dying really suck. Or maybe you have it all so quickly you’re
like, “Get it over with!”
MR: Ok, since you’re a bona fide SoCal native, can you recommend the best place to get
a taco in Santa Barbara? This is important.
JC: Art thou visiting the west coast soon? Truth be told, I grew up in Los Angeles but
I spent a substantial amount of time in Carpinteria, a small coastal town adjacent to
Santa Barbara. The thing I love about the west coast is, it’s where all the seekers and the
searchers end up, because it’s as far west as one goes before they hit the east. There’s
been generations of migrants heading west, in search of whatever, gold, freedom, or an
academy award…. The land is idyllic, and the people all have a distance in their eyes,
like they’re still looking for something that may never come. Or they have it already and
are like, “That’s it?” No one ever seems fully happy, or if they are it’s with an affect,
even though they’ve crafted their whole life in the pursuit of happiness. This is probably
a gross generalization, and applies in a way to any region, but there’s a specifically tanned
version of it on the coast of Southern California.
MR: Well put. I grew up in NY but California’s always been a second home to me.
My yearly visits to my family in SoCal confirmed the myth that it was a magical land
where the food just tasted better and Hughes-ian narratives of the American experience
unfolded on the daily for its flip-flop clad teens. Everywhere I went seemed to evoke
the immaculate artifice of a soundstage where the sun was always shining and no one
ever had to wear a real jacket. As an adult, I spent many years living in the stupendously
beautiful Bay Area, where I discovered that jackets were, in fact, totally necessary.
JC: Isn’t California such a myth for New Yorkers? It has such a sense of otherness.
MR: So true. It’s right up there with that childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. But
to quote another SoCal native, back to the lecture at hand: Tacos?
JC: For Tacos head to Carlitos!
MR: Even though it’s a crappy chain that serves grade D beef, don’t you agree that Del
Taco is also really good? Wait, do you even eat beef?
JC: Yes, The Del Taco on Santa Monica and Cahuenga at 2AM I’m currently very big
on limiting my intake of meat. I actually prefer veggie meat when it comes to burgers and
such!!! Where is the best place to get a veggie burger in New York?
MR: Honestly, I hate veggie burgers, so it would be disingenuous of me to answer that
question. Why are they always so dense and flavorless?
JC: That’s veggie meat. Fake meat is awesome. You spend your whole time eating the
burger thinking, “Does this taste real?” And you’re like, “I guess it does…. I’ll take
another bite and find out.” And then it’s all gone!
MR: What’s your favorite thing to do with your spare time these days, wherever you
JC: Oh man. I’ve spent too much time writing. There’s a point where it becomes
unhealthy. I’ve been playing a lot more guitar these days. And I took up boxing. So
MR: Ooh can you play Stairway?
JC: I tend to play depressing Elliot Smith covers. I used to play in a band back once upon
a back in the day. But that’s not going to be discussed.
MR: Dark times. Speaking of the darkness, Is there anything you’re working on
right now that makes you want to hit that punching bag, or your head against a wall,
JC: This play is particularly frightening. I’m asking myself a question about my
dependency on others, on my parents, on my friends. What does it mean to be an
independent person in this world. And is that even healthy? My worst fear I guess is
never finding that kind of freedom, and I’m finally coming to terms with it. Maybe that’s
not such a bad thing.
MR: I tend to think the most interesting work comes from a place of discomfort, where
an artist is willing to take a risk exploring uncharted territory and to surprise himself with
what he finds on the journey.
JC: Well Partial Comfort it is!
MR: Now that’s what I call some slick product placement! In writing this play, what’s
been illuminated for you about what it is to be independent in this world?
JC: I think the importance of acceptance. Of who we are, where we are at in our lives,
how much capacity we have to change ourselves. So what is getting you most excited
these days in the theater?
MR: Work that feels dangerous, tests our boundaries and challenges our complacency.
I don’t want to shut off when I enter a theater. I want to feel so present that I lose track
of who I am, where I am, and have to excuse myself for having to pick my jaw up off
the floor afterward. I like to see theater that exploits the power of what it truly means for
performance to be LIVE. Liveness to me suggests imperfection, a roughness around the
edges that cuts into us with the raw honesty of what it is to be human. Some shows I’ve
seen recently where I wasn’t making my grocery list in my head and felt all of the above:
Chad Beckim’s After, Erin Courtney’s A Map of Virtue, Hoi Polloi’s All Hands, Gob
Squad’s Kitchen, and of course ERS’ Gatz. What does Jon Caren want to see more of
when he goes to see theater?
JC: I hear people say they don’t like naturalism, that they’re sick of it, but I think it’s about
focused naturalism. I like to see truthful experiences that reflect the world I am living in.
I want to see characters and be able to either identify, or at least know who they are out
in the world in a new light. There shouldn’t be a feeling of separatism between the plays
we go to and the world we live in. I think when people are bored of naturalistic plays, it’s
because the plays aren’t reflecting new information about the human experience. So I
guess I want more theater than kind of seizes me and reflects the endemics of our culture
in a way that puts me in my place in the world. Which is why I am so grateful to be
working with you. You have that hunger, and you mine it and cultivate it in your work.
So? What’s going to explode in you?
MR: My overwhelming excitement about what this month holds! First and foremost,
our reading next Monday night! After that I’ll be starting rehearsals with Women’s
Project for We Play for the Gods, an uber-collaborative piece that an incredible group
of playwrights, directors and producers have been conceiving collectively over the past
year. The show opens at Cherry Lane in June. Hope you can make it.
JC: How exciting is Partial Comfort and how much do you think they should be
producing this play?
MR: Partial Comfort blows my mind. Look at Welcome Mat. Every single play in the
series is equally amazing! Partial Comfort’s work is always rock solid and the company
is so talented it’s sick. Not to mention that Molly and Chad are producorial pros and have
total hearts of gold. How much do I think PCP should be producing this play? Thiiiiiis
much (imagine me with my arms stretched out very very far). How do you feel about
working with PCP?
JC: I have to say as someone who spent many years self-producing theater in bars and
small theaters in Los Angeles, I have so much respect for this company. They contribute
such a high quality of work downtown. This is the stuff that myths are made of over
time. Chad and Molly have all my respect. PS, How great is our cast?
MR: Our cast is amazing! I won’t be able to stop if I let myself start gushing! Wow, I
guess I’m excited about a lot these days…I can also not be excited. This is me not being
excited. As you can see, I’ve restrained myself from using an exclamation point.
JC: You and I suffer from the same disease. An inexplicable need to add an exclamation
mark to most sentences, and the fear, that if we don’t, they aren’t met with the same
fervor that is in our hearts. It’s a true exercise in trust and restraint not to use one. I’m
proud of you. (That was so difficult, not to end with a “!”)