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A Happy Return: An Interview with Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire

 

Ripcord marks the third production at the Huntington for Boston native son David Lindsay-Abaire. Before rehearsals began, he talked with dramaturg Charles Haugland about what sparked this new play for him and the relationship between humor and emotion in his work.

Charles Haugland (Artistic Programs & Dramaturgy): What inspired you to write Ripcord?

David Lindsay-Abaire (Playwright): After writing a couple of very naturalistic plays, Rabbit Hole [produced at the Huntington in 2006] and Good People [produced at the Huntington in 2012], I wanted to write something that was in the world of my more overtly comic and unhinged earlier plays. Every once in a while, someone would say, “Oh, remember when you wrote comedies? I loved those plays.” After getting over the wince of pain that I felt, I thought, “Can I even write one of those comedies? Or were those the works of a young, willful playwright who didn’t know what he was doing?” Then I thought, “I wonder if I can combine that spirit of those old plays with, hopefully, the craft that I’ve garnered over the years.” So that was the inspiration.

Once the play started to take shape, I realized that it was harkening back to some of the first plays I had seen and loved as a kid — plays like I’m Not Rappaport, Lettice and Lovage, The Gin Game, and Driving Miss Daisy. All fo them are comedies about two characters of a certain age really going at it with each other. The plays are really funny, but what I loved about them was that they are also incredibly human. They had big throbbing hearts in the middle of them. I was hoping to write something like that, with my own spin.

CH: One of the things I’ve always loved about your work is how it balances a sense of farce with something more moving. Why do you think that is a balance that you are drawn to, of these lighter moments and darker moments existing together?

DLA: It’s my own personal world view. I think about growing up in South Boston; life could be awful sometimes for my friends and family. And yet, in order to get through these awful things, humor was used as a coping mechanism. No mastter how terrible things got, there was always humor to fall back on. Sometimes things were so awful that they were funny, unfortunately. There was always this sort of interconnectedness between humor and tragedy because that’s just what life was.

When I write a serious play, like Rabbit Hole which is about the death of a child, people are surprised how funny that play is. Even I was surprised. For Ripcord, it’s the inverse. If I’m going to write a comedy, it shouldn’t be a surprise that, underneath it, there’s pain and hurt and desperate need. Whether it’s a “serious” play or a “comedic” playonly depends on turning the knob a couple of notches in either direction.

CH: One of the fun things about reading a play like Ripcord before seeing a production is imagining how the director and actors will stage some of the impossible things that happen over the course of the story. Do you consciously think about creating moments that challenge actors and directors and designers to stage, or do you try to write freely and let other people worry about how to stage it?

DLA: I try not to edit myself, because the collaborators that I have worked with in my career have solved any difficult challenge I presented to them. And it’s theatre! So, you don’t just have to have people sitting on couches chatting. You can have them doing all kinds of incredible things. My experience has been: the simpler the solution tends to work best. Audiences are really smart, and they can fill in the blanks. It’s not a movie, so it doesn’t have to be hyper-real.

CH: What are you working on next?

DLA: I am working on a play, which is actually a prequel to Good People set in 1978. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I might change my mind. I am also working on a new musical with Jeanine Tesori. We worked on Shrek the Musical together, and I said, “Let’s write a musical where we’re not adapting a big giant movie that everybody has an opinion about. Let’s do it like a play where nobody knows what we’re doing.” So, I will be mum on that as well.


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