Theater In Dialogue
Gregory S. Moss Is Not A Prodigy
Greg has been doing theater since he was eight but he didn’t consider himself a playwright until he did a three week workshop with Paula Vogel in Florida in 2005. In those three weeks he wrote two full-length plays, a one-act, and a bunch of shorter pieces. At the end of the workshop, Paula took the participants to Cassadaga, a village of psychics, and Greg got a reading. The psychic told him that in a year he would be moving an hour south of his home in Cambridge, MA and he would be going back to school. Afterwards Paula took him to lunch and told him to apply to to the MFA program at Brown, and one year later he had moved to Providence and started school. But Greg wasn’t 22 when this happened. Or 19.
I don’t actually know how old Greg is, but between college and grad school he’s had time to be in a band for six years, teach theater at a fancy prep school, teach summer camp, be a tutor and a barista, live in Los Angeles more than once, work in the Boston area as an actor and director, live in North Carolina, start a theater company, and for a year and a half somewhere in there be an investment banker. Greg and I have talked a lot—on drives and train trips between Providence and New York, over drinks and sushi, at shows and bars, but he almost never talks about himself. For the purposes of this article I interviewed Greg over the phone because we are on opposite coasts right now and for once he had to answer questions. I asked how he felt about having his New York debut and not being 26 or 29.
“I feel like I’m doing it at exactly the right time” Greg says matter-of-factly. And I believe him. “The theater seems really obsessed with younger and younger playwrights; finding these stars or baby geniuses. I’m interested in someone like [Maria Irene] Fornes who didn’t write a play ’til she was 30. I don’t mean to speak ill of any of my peers, but I think you got to live a little before you have anything to write about. That may be a cliché but I do feel like you have to accumulate some experience. You can’t just have gone to college, you have to have met human beings and listened to them talk, gotten a little outside your bubble. Gotten a little more comfortable with yourself.”
Orange, Hat & Grace is a romance, but it is not about the people we expect to see in romances. This is not a play about the young and beautiful:
ORANGE is nearly old. She wears her hair pulled severely back, away from her face. Her face, however, is not severe. It is softened and takes shadow in.
HAT is big and bear-like, hairy, dirty, with protruding gut and thick beard. Just past the end of his youth. Childlike and feral. A clownish baby-man.
Some of the threads that run through Greg’s writing are obsessions with Genre, Gender, and Taboo. In response to a question about some graphic sexual imagery in one of his plays, Greg explains: “I like trying to cut through some of the veneer of cultured civilization. There’s something about being in the theater that automatically becomes abstracted and sort of dreamlike, and so for me the natural place to go is to this sort of grotesque or nightmarish or sexual place—Id stuff—I think that’s some of the purpose of the theater, to dredge up the repressed. Not just for the sake of breaking taboos or something, but to actually get cozy with the stuff we normally put away or deny. Obviously there’s a politics to that too, but I’m also just interested in making people squirm. I think people like to squirm; they like to be a little scared and a little squirmy sometimes.”
Dealing with this taboo material in the context of known genres gives him an ability to work within a set of rules that can then be subverted. Gender can be seen in the same way. Like a Western or a Romance, our society sets us up to have certain expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman, and Greg Moss wants to kick them in the teeth. “People who are caught between identities or caught between conventional modes of functioning, those are my people, those are my characters, people who can’t quite fit into masculine or feminine roles I find engaging or empathic.”
Because. I am “wooing” you.
...you are “wooing” me?
That’s right. I am “wooing” you. I am pitching woo. Right here at your door.
HAT presents ORANGE with a crudely carved figure, half tree stump half doll.
What. What is it.
Mh. It’s a baby.
That’s no baby.
Yes it is! It’s our baby. See? Makes us a family. See?
This is disgusting.
Women wants babies. Men make babies.
Women need men to make babies.
You are a woman. You want a baby.
I made a baby and now you want me.
You are an idiot.
Don’t need to be smart to make a baby. Dumbest thing in the world can make a baby.
My plays tend to be autobiographical and Greg’s are decidedly not. This makes me think that it would be easier for him to sit and watch his own plays than it is for me. He vehemently disagrees: “Somehow if it were real, if it were stuff that I didn’t entirely make up, I would feel a little less bashful about it, but I think it’s like: ‘This is my imagination.’ Which is already this sort of weirdly infantilized word in our culture. It just feels like you’re a pervert or something, like you’re the ultimate weirdo.”
Greg is not the ultimate weirdo or not any more than any other playwright I know. The playwrights I know tend to be shy and awkward, and of course strange. “That’s the weird thing—people want to hang out with artists,” Greg muses, “but they’re not like artists in the movies. There’s a reason people write and don’t talk, why they’re not stand up comedians or inspirational speakers or something. It’s not entirely coincidental.” Which is also why playwrights find collaborators, and in Sarah Benson, Greg has found an incredible one. They first collaborated last summer at the O’Neill Playwrights Festival and have been working together steadily since. After Orange, Hat & Grace opens at Soho Rep they head down to D.C. for the premier of House of Gold. I don’t think that Greg could have possibly said nicer things about working with Ms. Benson and the rest of the creative team, including Matt Maher, who he wrote the role of Hat for. Greg may have waited longer than some for this turn on the New York Stage, but as he said, it is happening at just the right time.
My mother tried to strangle me when I was born. My father was a function of the weather.
I remember all this with perfect clarity.
Some people are born knowing everything.
The reason is my body. And my face. I’m hid-e-ous.
I’m a monster. I know this without being told.
My mother fed me boiled peas, mashed, with sugar in them.
I was a Human Baby.
I stayed in bed. I played alone.
I made up toys from the air circulating above my bed.
Birds and dogs and cows and wolves and deer and sheep and bats.
I didn’t know what to call them, because I don’t know any words.
But I could still spell their shapes in the air. You should’ve seen them!
I made an airy mother, with an airy breast,Ha!
and from her airy nipple,
I sucked up airy milk -