One on One: Lou Tyrrell talks with Isreal Horovitz

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Lou Tyrrell, Artistic Director of Theatre at Arts Garage, is thrilled to announce that famed playwright Israel Horovitz’s latest work, Gloucester Blue, will make its world premiere at the Delray Beach venue. Master story-teller Israel Horovitz continues his “Gloucester Series” of plays, using the intimate locale of Gloucester, MA, to tell epic stories of sex, murder, and intrigue. “Israel Horovitz is one of our finest American playwrights living today,” said Tyrrell. “His understanding of what drives us as human beings is original, unique, and completely theatrical. He is an artistic treasure, and to produce a world premiere of one of his plays at Arts Garage is a thrill and an honor. Gloucester Blue is an example of American playwriting at its best.” As Tyrrell and Horovitz planned for the opening, they conducted a very special one-one-one interview for The Pineapple. 

LT: As one of America’s most successful and prolific playwrights, is there any specific goal you have as an artist, going forward? IH: Difficult for me to conceptualize goals for my work. My focus is really individual plays and thoughts about what people need from my play … what my play has a right to take up an audience’s time. I suppose I do have a goal to go forward as opposed to moving through a rear-view mirror into repetition of work I’ve done in the past … simply said, to create work that is fresh and relevant … both for me and for younger, newer audiences. Gloucester Blue is certainly a departure for me in terms of its film noir style … and possibly a departure in terms of its purpose. The play is really dark and really funny… a blend of blackheart and lightheart. LT: You are the most produced American playwright in other countries around the world. What is it about your plays that so compel theatres in other cultures to produce them? IH: It’s possibly because I have excellent translators and my plays improve in translation. Joking aside, it’s sort of a mystery to me, really. It’s so incredibly lucky. I’ve had something like fifty of my plays translated and performed in France, alone. I’m given to explain this in interviews in France by saying “In another life, I must have been an escargot…” Interest in my plays in Europe is possibly because my roots are in Europe. My plays tend to be more emotional than intellectual … Perhaps emotion translates easily to other cultures. LT: You are well known for your “Gloucester” plays. Is there something special about this little Massachusetts town that feeds your stories in a particular way? IH: When I got out of grad school in the mid-1970s, I wrote a trilogy set in my hometown Wakefield, Massachusetts. The three 3-act plays were rife with literary illusion. At that time, I was driving up to Connecticut to have dinner with Thornton Wilder, who was a hero of mine. Mr. Wilder was nearly ninety years old and not able to get around easily. When we met together, we talked about playwriting, and about life. He read my “Wakefield Plays” and was extremely flattering in his praise. But, at the end of it all, Thornton Wilder spoke one sentence that would alter the course of my playwriting for years and years to come. He ended his praise of “The Wakefield Plays” with “ … Of course, there isn’t very much Wakefield in those plays.” Spoken by Thornton Wilder, who had created Grovers Corners, New England’s best-known, best-loved small-town, I listened. His ten-word sentence, had, for me, great meaning, and great impact. If my Wakefield plays would be nothing else, they would be brim-full of Wakefield. I began to write a complementing, quite-short play called Hopscotch in which I tried to capture the dialogue and dialect I grew up hearing as a kid … which is to say I tried to recreate the way people actually spoke in my time in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Ten pages into the writing of the play, I was hooked. I loved the fact that the characters in Hopscotch spoke with such a specific and arcane language. It sounded familiar and, more importantly, it sounded true. It was true. Obviously Wilder was on to something, because Hopscotch was quickly translated and performed around the globe.

A few years later, I started writing plays set in Gloucester, my adopted hometown, where I have a small house and a small theatre. These Gloucester plays used Gloucester dialogue and dialect, as well as touching actual social problems of the town. This all added in a sense of place to my plays – by actually mentioning existing Gloucester landmarks, family names, street names, problems of the working class, problems of the rich and poor. It all contributed to an illusion of truthfulness. Audiences believed the plays… and were able to easily identify with the people of these plays. Initially, in writing the Gloucester plays, I wanted to call attention to a working-class town in which working-class life was disappearing. Gloucester once had a great and powerful fishing industry. In my own lifetime, I watched a workforce of more than a thousand dockworkers – “lumpers” – shrink to the dozen or so union stevedores of 2013 Gloucester. This issue of a shrinking working class was as real and true for Bremerhaven, Germany, as it was for Gloucester.

LT: What is it about Gloucester Blue that sets it apart from your other “Gloucester” plays? IH: As I mentioned earlier, Gloucester Blue is written in a style I’d never tried before. I started with the idea of two guys painting a room … painting over years of history and a multitude of sins. Dramatizing the multitude of sins was great fun and led me to a style I never tried before … a style that fits Lou Tyrrell’s sensibility as a director like the proverbial glove. And the spirit of Arts Garage is quirky and clever with cabaret tables and chairs and a unique bring-your-own food and drink policy. It’s a really special way to see a play. LT: As a master playwright whose career has spanned more than a few decades, what is your perspective on how the theatre has evolved as the world has changed? IH: When I arrived in New York, 50 years ago, people like Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg were still alive and reminiscing about days of The Group Theatre and writers like Clifford Odets. It occurred to me, even back then, that Odets had grown up in a hugely different world – a world in which television didn’t exist, and movies were more like filmed stage-plays. Even in my early years as a produced playwright, theatre was still an extremely popular form of entertainment. Today, it simply isn’t. Audiences for my early plays were a blend of people of all ages, but mostly young people. What was Odets’ theatre seems a planet away from theatre of 2013. As theatergoers grow older, they are not ipso-facto being replaced by younger theatergoers. Today’s challenge is to lure/attract young people into our theatres for what may well be their first experience with stage plays. It’s not a hopeless problem. It’s just a difficult problem. More and more young writers dream of lifetime in television or movies, not theatre. As playwrights tend to write about their own wants and needs, fewer and fewer plays are being written about young people. Because I have five children, I suppose I’ve been closer to the problems of younger people — their wants and needs – and so many of my plays, including recent plays, concern themselves with younger characters. Again, finding a young audience isn’t an unsolvable problem. It’s just a hard game. But younger audiences must be found and nurtured. There will always be theatre. The experience of watching live actors perform is magical. Always was, always will be.