Crafting Your Weirdness* with Dan LeFrancby Mallery Avidon
In October Dan LeFranc and I went and had Cambodian food on Wickenden Street in Providence, Rhode Island, where we both live. I had never had Cambodian food before. It was delicious. I recorded our conversation on an old fashioned mini-tape recorder. I wanted to transcribe our conversation word for word putting in every “um” and “like” and repeated phrase and fragment that each of us said, and lay the interview out for you like one of Dan’s plays, sliding down the page like a poem. But all those line breaks take up a lot of space. Even editing our conversation down to articulate soundbites was daunting. We had talked for hours. And that’s just what I have on tape. We hang out pretty often. Granted we’d never talked about writing so much, or his plays. We usually stick to politics and movies. Dan doesn’t like talking about his plays. So it was amazing to sit down for so long and be able to ask whatever I wanted.
To prepare for the interview I read Sixty Miles to Silver Lake, Bruise Easy, Night Surf, Origin Story, The Fishbone Fables, and In the Labyrinth. I have also seen readings of Night Surf, In The Labyrinth and Sixty Miles. Dan has written other plays but this is a pretty good representation. I haven’t seen a production of his work yet because Sixty Miles is his first play in NYC.
The first thing that I noticed connecting all the plays, is an incredibly strong sense of place. Many of Dan’s plays take place in Southern California, where he grew up, and the ones that don’t are very centered in their own landscape. I am slightly obsessed with the idea of place, so it’s possible that this thread stood out more clearly for me than it would for others, but it is there none the less.
Dan Lefranc: When I was starting to write plays in college my plays took place in voids, like without a landscape, theatrical voids, maybe because I was into Beckett. I have no idea why but I was almost afraid or I was ashamed by where I came from. I did not think that where I came from had any stories worth telling. I thought it was boring. I grew up in the suburbs, I didn’t think anything really exciting had happened to me. It took Naomi Iizuka, who was my teacher in undergrad, and I wrote this little thing in her class and she was like “This is awesome!” It was this conversation about this couple who meets at a 19th birthday party for the guy and they’re making out in a closet and they end up playing taboo in the closet and I thought it was silly, but she said it was poetry, and that kind of, like, blew my mind. She was very much interested in finding out about where I came from and my history, who I was, and there was a lot of emphasis in the class on your experience and I was like “Oh my God someone actually thinks it’s interesting.” Naomi would look at me and she’s like “You grew up next to Disneyland?” with this sort of peculiar what is that?! look and I was like “That’s not weird that’s just…it’s like 30 minutes…” It took someone from outside—I also went to school in California (at UCSB) so I was surrounded by a lot of Californians, so it never felt that weird. So I think when I came to Brown I felt a lot more emboldened to sort of excavate that experience.
If the world or the location feels very alive or very important to the plays I think it’s because…Bruise Easy was the first play I wrote where I let people talk like Californians and so I think I was getting very, I became very excited by this new discovery, it was like “Oh my God! I actually know how to write this language.” I stopped trying to write like what other plays sounded like. I tried to write how people sounded to me which is a very specific thing, you know? It was a huge discovery writing that play in terms of language and the way I started to break the plays up on the page.
-From Bruise Easy
The other thing that I am obsessed with lately is the idea of truth in writing. People tend to think that everything that I write in my plays is true, and as a corollary to that, that I must be a pretty fucked up person. I know not everything I write is true, but it’s important to me that it feel true.
Dan begrudgingly told me some of the things in his plays that actually happened, either stories, or events, or conversations. And they probably aren’t the things you think they are. But it isn’t actually important. There is something in Dan’s plays that feels true the way getting punched in the gut feels true and it wouldn’t matter if every single bit of every single play sprang fully formed from his imagination, it wouldn’t make it any less real.
-From In the Labyrinth: A Spectacle with Stories
We also discussed: where each of Dan’s plays started; why a play about a father and son has to take place in a car; places divorced parents pick up their kids e.g. McDonald’s; the time I went out to dinner with Dan and his Dad; Warren Buffett donating money to replace all proscenium theaters with completely flexible spaces; writing plays with or without a specific audience in mind; Paula Vogel; Erin Cressida Wilson; plasticity; Synthetic Fragments and Hamletmachine; punctuation; the economy’s collapse; McCain using the phrase “Class Warfare” in one of the debates; the election (it was still that time); The Daily Show; if the world is actually worse or if we just don’t have historical perspective; misogyny in Orange County and in Dan’s plays; the ways in which straight men are expected to talk about sexuality; custody arrangements; Pre-Cum; whether or not a lot of playwright’s moms work at Starbucks; the transition from graduate school to the real world; Annie Kauffman and Les Waters; awesome Literary Managers, Artistic Directors, and Playwrights; Wow, we aren’t really that young anymore; if theater is more intellectual or more visceral; ERS’s The Sound and the Fury, goosebumps, Blasted and how much I cried when I got to the end of Bruise Easy.
Sixty Miles to Silver Lake, written by Dan Lefranc and directed by Anne Kauffman, runs through February 8th. It is presented by Page 73 and Soho Rep. Performances are at Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street, NYC. For more info and tix, visit www.sohorep.org
*This is the title of the Introduction to Playwriting class that Dan teaches at Brown
MALLERY AVIDON is a playwright based in Seattle and New York.