Trevor playwright Nick Jones, interviews Trevor director Lila Neugebauer. And vice versa.
Check out what they have to say … and then come check out our FREE reading of Trevor, next Monday, 4/16 at 7:30 PM. Atlantic Theater Company’s Studio Theater (330 West 16th)
The reading of Trevor will feature: Jane Houdyshell, Christopher Evan Welch, Crystal Finn, Frank Harts, Jeff Biehl, Danny Mastrogiorgio and Heidi Schreck
Lila Neugebauer: Hey, Nick.
Nick Jones: What up, Lila.
LN: How are you doing?
NJ: I’m good.
LN: Tell me about the inspiration for TREVOR.
NJ: Trevor was inspired by the horrific news story about a woman whose pet chimpanzee went berserk and attacked and seriously disfigured her best friend. What I found interesting about that story was not the mauling itself but the details which emerged about the relationship between an older woman (who had recently lost her family) and her chimp. They had a seriously close relationship and the chimp was basically being raised as a human, drinking wine on occasion and being allowed to drive the car (this may not be true, but was one of the details that was printed at the time, and which ended up going into the play). Also, the chimp was once in show business, but was now too old to work, since after adolescence chimps get too wild and aggressive to be used in film and tv. The premise of an out of work chimp actor trying to get back on top seemed juicy to me, particularly if I could establish that the stakes of his delusions had the potential for extreme violence. The original story was a tragedy, with real victims, but it’s a story where I felt I could understand the point of view of everyone, and sympathize. This play is an attempt to tell a similar story, in which everyone has good intentions, but in which the result is tragedy, and tell it partially from the chimp’s point of view. At the same time, I should add that I recognize it is absurd to think I can “get inside the head” of an animal, and depict that in a play with language, and that that sort of anthropomorphizing of an animal is part of what laid the groundwork for this and other tragedies, and contributes to the suffering of countless animals who are trained to act like humans and then “betray” their trainers when they act as they normally would and should be expected to act. In the end, the play is fanciful, and Trevor is less about animals than about miscommunication and thwarted hopes and dreams.
LN: Why do you believe in comedy?
NJ: I am a suspicious person. Morally superior theater makes my skin crawl, even when I believe in the message. I think it’s a little haughty to pull the rug out from under something and let yourself remain standing and looking cool. I can’t say I think a comedic mode is appropriate for every story—comedy, or at least my comedy, is destructive in that it’s usually poking fun at things in life, or literature, that I find absurd. But I think that’s a healthy destruction. I suppose you could say that comedy is just a mode that best suits my overall state of dubiousness.
LN: In your plays, you tend to pursue an absurdist premise to a point of excess; you like to take a joke too far. How do you know when to stop?
NJ: Most of my revisions are done with the intention to take a premise as far as possible without jumping the shark, or jumping the shark so far that jumping the shark becomes the normal state of things. Sometimes taking things as far as possible means just making something feel real and emotional (dramatic) despite the ridiculous nature of itself. I never want to undermine whatever fundamental logic and reality I establish for myself at the outset. I am really interested in identifying those things that audiences will immediately revolt against, giving it to them, and trying to keep them from revolting. The way I see it, you can do that by A) making them think they are part of a serious exercise (art) in which they are confronting serious problems that they are helping solve by thinking about or B) through comedy, in which the uneasy pleasure they take in basking in the unpleasant or absurd overwhelms their own sense of themselves as someone who is better than the things they are witnessing. For some reason, I tend to think approach B is the more morally superior of the two. Approach A will probably result in better reviews.
Ok, now I’m going to ask you some questions, Lila. What excites you about working with me?
LN: Your work can genuinely make me laugh to the point of physical discomfort, even when I’m just reading it alone in my apartment. That’s a rare feat. Also, I enjoy that you’re willing to push audiences way outside their comfort zone, through absurdist, lunatic and occasionally grotesque theatricality. Comedy might be the best forum for subversive ideas, and I think subversive thinking is pretty vital these days. Also, I’ve found that we both possess the weird capacity to have 3-4 thoughts at the same time, and I find that reassuring. As well as helpful to our collaboration.
NJ: What kind of theater excites you, besides mine?
LN: I’m excited by theater that takes me down a rabbit hole, that disorients and re-orients me, that leaves me in an altered state. I like theater that invests as much in silence as in language. I love rigorously executed, immersive events in non-traditional spaces that open my eyes to the possibilities of space all around me. I want an experience in the theater that can’t readily become an anecdote. Like, how do you explain ERS’ GATZ to someone? You can’t. You have to see it. Not all of that has to happen at once, but getting one or two of those is really great.
NJ: What do you have coming up, besides working with me?
LN: This month, I’m developing new works with playwrights Mia Chung and Dipika Guha, and also workshopping another play of yours, MATTERHORN. In May, I’m continuing my work as Associate Director on STOP THE VIRGENS, a psycho-opera that premiered at St. Ann’s Warehouse this past Fall (created by Karen O and KK Barrett and directed by Adam Rapp) — which we’re taking to the Sydney Opera House. Then I head to Williamstown Theatre Festival to direct THE VALLEY OF FEAR, this year’s Free Theatre (outdoors), and then I’ll be in Louisville, KY, workshopping a new piece with my company, The Mad Ones, while we’re in residence with Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Apprentice Company.
Ok, now we’re going back to you for just a few more quick, highly pertinent questions.
You’re about to move to Los Angeles to write for Jenji Kohan’s new show, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. What excites and/or terrifies you most about this venture?
NJ: It’s always great to confront things I don’t understand or which scare me. Through writing for this show I will have an opportunity to grapple with 2 big ones: women and prison.
LN: If you could have one super power, what would it be and why?
NJ: Keeping myself from playing with my phone.
LN: You’re from Alaska. What makes you especially Alaskan?
NJ: I am less afraid of bears than sharks. I am more afraid of people than bears.
LN: You occasionally moonlight as a performer. What’s the one great role you’re determined to play before you die?
NJ: James Bond.
LN: You’re also a puppeteer. Are puppets the future? Are they the past? Elaborate.
NJ: I have several projects in the works with puppets or “puppet elements” in them. I’ll tell you about them later. I have to get back to work.
LN: Is it too early to mourn? Is it too late to ride?
NJ: I have to go.
LN: A bunch of your short plays are about to go up at The Flea. How’s that going? Any other plugs?
NJ: Ok. I’ll stay for just a little longer.
Tickets are on sale for my evening of shorts, THE WUNDELSTEIPEN (AND OTHER DIFFICULT ROLES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE) at the Flea, April 27th – May 23rd.
Also, I am working with a composer named Natalie Weiss on a musical piece called BORDERLAND about the sex reformer Ida Craddock, which will have a presentation with members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic at Galapagos on May 2nd. http://galapagosartspace.com/
And there’s this reading, which is Monday.