Marlane Meyer and The Miraculous Nature of Life
I have never met Marlane Meyer, but I share a profound relationship with her based on my love for the theatre and her persistence on writing for it, despite the dizzying obstacles and the diminishing returns. I became a literary friend of Meyer's through reading her plays, the titles of which sound like recipes or ritualistic prayers that one hopes will bring enlightenment: The Geography of Luck; The Chemistry of Change; The Mystery of Attraction. I was beguiled by the titles on the scripts, and I was seduced by the journeys taken by their characters. The plays, like real estate, are all about location, location, location, but searching for the ideal placement--in life, in love, in allegiances--is far more complicated (trust me) than finding the home or the apartment. The journeys of Marlane Meyer are rich in complexity and humor, and, I'm happy to say, you find a home for yourself when you are completed. (My other friendship with Meyer, I am forced to admit, is as a neighbor in Castleville, and we build damned good kingdoms.)
And now we have a new play to savor: The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters, beginning performances at Playwrights Horizons on October 18th. Right here, right now.
I asked Marlane three questions, just to get us started and to get you motivated, and this is what I got.
James Grissom: The constant refrain from so many about the theatre is that it is difficult or irrelevant or near death. Do you agree with any of this? Why bother?
Marlane Meyer: People say the craziest stuff, and I don't think it has anything to do with theatre. I think they're unhappy; they don't know how to have a good time; maybe they can't stop thinking about the season that Glengarry Glen Ross, Hurlyburly, Death of a Salesman, and Sunday in the Park with George were all on Broadway. I can't stop thinking about it either! But seriously, I think there is an energy in this universe that wants to express in this medium of theatre. Period.
It comes out in these gifted playwrights who write very well and will write even better in the future. And I find that exciting. And if theatre wasn't met with a public appetite then theatre would close down and go out of business like vaudeville did, or rather turn into Saturday Night Live. But living, as I am, temporarily, a block from Times Square and fighting my way through hordes of people lining up to see Phantom of the Opera or Book of Mormon or any number of truly expensive plays, I can't help but think it's positive. This audience is in training. If they have a good time, they'll go to the theatre in their hometowns. And their interest will go a long way toward supporting the men and women devotedly churning out plays at hundreds of LORT D theatres and community playhouses and all kinds of hell boxes with their well-meaning productions of Uncle Vanya and new plays. I mean, clearly, there is an appetite to watch live art. Who are we kidding?
JG: You wrote that you don't know why you write plays--when there are infinitely more profitable ways of being heard--and yet you did and you do. What was the lure?
MM: There is no exterior lure, but one from the heart or soul-- that is the one to take seriously. There is a talent that you discover early on and it will take its own form. Mine was poetry. A great place to start writing if you want to write plays. I have said I really don't know why I write plays. And it's true. It is a mysterious relationship. I could speculate and say something like, I think it's because of how I hear my writing. I hear it in dialogue, and if the dialogue seems loaded with subtext, then I write it down. I could also speculate that it's because I have spent a great deal of time alone. Not by choice exactly, but as a writer it's how my life turned out. And I could also guess that maybe it's more fun for me to create a world with people who make jokes about serious things and philosophize about the miraculous nature of life. Who wouldn't want to go to a party like that?
JG: So many playwrights with whom I've spent time claim that everything is about making a mark--physical, spiritual, sexual, moral, artistic. In other words: Do we matter? Do you agree with this? Would you say that your new play has to do with making a mark? Learning to matter? Showing up and then doing something interesting while present?
MM: I've never said or talked to myself about making a mark. But I guess if what you mean is becoming visible, I think that is part of the attraction of any creative work. You want to succeed if success mean you can do your work and not have to work your shit job. But I think you have to force that notion away while you're doing the real work of writing. Nothing should be in mind but the work, the search for the truth, and the resistance to cave in to fear or despair. You have to keep strong with the exploration of the questions you answer with writing. The big questions that come up out of your inner core that you invite to visit with your application and sincerity. That is all. That is it. Everything else should fall away. If you become enchanted by an outcome that has as its end-piece a starry finish, you can get not only very lost, but lose the sweet, innocent voice with which you began. And yet, the kind of visibility that can happen when you have even a moderate success can have remarkable and life-changing consequences. It can be transformational and can offer you opportunities and a talented curiosity. But the former has to say locked away in the service of the dream or all is lost.
My conversation with Marlane Meyer will continue, and I will ask more questions after I see the production.