Sunday, September 8, 2013

2013 Interview with Marthe Rachel Gold

Playwright/doctor Marthe Rachel Gold's play Lake Anne is being produced by The Road Theatre Company and is about to open at the new theatre at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony on Magnolia in NoHo on September 20. In our chat, Gold offers us a sneak peek at the play and its background.

   Tell me briefly about Lake Anne, its plot and characters.

 As the play opens, Joe, a principal dancer for a world class dance company visits his aunt and some-time mentor Anne, a widowed former prima ballerina who long ago retreated to the country to care for her mentally disabled son, Will.  Broke, and threatened with the loss of her family home, Anne is in the process of finding money to save her house through the sale of her lake to a successful New York actress.  Anne also has important decisions to make about Will’s care that could change both her life and his and is encouraged to do so by Emily, her sister-in-law and Joe’s mother, a practical woman who is looking to help Anne find sensible solutions to her problems.  Over the course of a long evening, Joe paints a picture for Anne of a vanished life to which she begins to believe she might return.  But there are obstacles…   

What was your specific goal in writing it? How did your idea generate - through a workshop, a personal experience...?

I rarely have one specific goal for anything I do, and Lake Anne is no exception.  As with most writers, I expect, the story and characters emerge from a range of experiences and people who lead me to craft its story.  Some of the elements here:  When I was in training in medicine I was profoundly unsettled by a mother of an adult son who had Down Syndrome and was in critical need of cardiac surgery.  The mother did not want her son to undergo that operation because she was afraid that the operation would be a success, that he would then outlive her, and she feared that without her, he would be institutionalized and his life would be hellish.  So the idea of agency and when agency is lost in a cognitively limited individual is something that is a question I am thinking about in Lake Anne.  In writing this play I also set out to try to understand what makes a character tragic.  I have tried to discover that in writing Anne’s role.  On a lighter note, I am a swimmer, and while I was working on Lake Anne, I learned that “my” pond located in upstate New York was actually on a neighbor’s property.  So there is a bit of grieving about the loss of a pond (not a lake) within the play.  Finally, I want to say that I am not now and never have been a prima ballerina.  I realized during medical school that that path was unlikely to stay open.

What do you wish to accomplish? What would you like audiences to take away with them?

I wanted to create a strong woman character who audiences might not like, but whose actions they could understand in the context of the ambitions she held, and the responsibilities she felt obligated to take on.  I wanted to talk about the sacrifices we all make to help children and partners, and what they both cost us and give us.

Who inspired your writing the most? Is there a mentor or writer, playwright who stands out above all others for you?

I can’t answer that because my writing sensibilities are shaped as much by the literature I read as by the plays.  I am drawn to subtext and that is harder to accomplish in playwriting than in literature where one can place clues along the way without sticking them into dialogue.  In fiction I am a huge fan of authors like Alice Munro, William Trevor, John Banville.  In theater, I have been drawn to O’Neill, Miller, Williams, Pinter, Beckett, Chekov, but who hasn’t?  I have written one dark comedy that I hope would remind someone of Martin McDonough, but I doubt that it would.

In my young days I was an actor and I was excited by less traditionally structured plays – groups like the Living Theater and the Open Theater were riveting to me.  I grew up in NYC and was taken to see the classics early along, so I found these non-linear, spectacle-laden and movement driven plays emotionally wrenching in ways that were new to me.  I see some of that now in the work of Simon McBurney and the Complicite Theater and it still draws me.  I never imagined that when I came to writing for the stage that I would be as traditional as I have turned out.  Ah well.

With respect to mentors – I didn’t come through an MFA program so I’ve had workshops along the way.  The playwrights Leslie Lee and Keith Bunin and the dramaturg Maxine Kern have all been great and sensitive responders to my work.  And then there’s John Levey and Sam Anderson, more about them in the next question.

How did the Road become involved in producing your play? Is it a pleasant experience thus far?

My work with the Road has been extraordinarily pleasant and extraordinarily nourishing.  First you have to know that John Levey (Lake Anne’s director) and I go back a long ways.  In college I was an actor at the University of Rochester Summer Theater, and John was a director there.  (Despite that), we have stayed close friends these many years, and when I began to write for the stage several years ago, I sent my work to him to see what he thought.  He has been an early fan and it was he who arranged a reading of my play, Marsh Light, out here in LA.  It was the first time I heard my work read aloud professionally and it was a wonderful experience.  Since then, he has directed staged readings of two other plays, as well a production of Marsh Light.  He also sent plays of mine around to a couple of individuals at theaters in LA who he thought might be interested in them.  The Road was one.  Sam Anderson, Taylor Bryce, and Scott Smith were kind enough to read several of my plays, and developed an interest in my work.  At the time Lake Anne was least finished and they suggested that I work with the Road in its development.  We did a staged reading here 3 years ago, and then in fits and starts Sam (with input from other members of the Road’s Company) and I have engaged in conversations about the script.  I have found these interactions to be wonderful and they have been instrumental in adding nuance and depth to the play.  I have been deeply impressed by the commitment and creativity that members of the Road Theater have brought to bringing Lake Anne to life.

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