Q&A with Murray Mednick by Dan Berkowitz

I just reviewed a bunch of shows, so for a change of pace, we’re gonna do another Q&A. All right? All right!

Murray Mednick, a pioneer of the off- and off-off-Broadway movements in the ‘60s and ‘70s and playwright-in-residence for Theater Genesis, wrote such ground-breaking works as The Hawk, The Hunter, Sand, Are You Lookin’ and The Deer Kill, which won a 1970 OBIE Award for Outstanding Play. He’s received two Rockefeller Foundation grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Theatre Critics Association Best New Play citation (for Joe and Betty), a Career Achievement Award from the LA Weekly, an Ovation Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to Los Angeles Theater from the L.A. Stage Alliance, a Local Hero Award from Back Stage West, and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle’s Margaret Harford Award for Sustained Excellence in Theater. Whew!

The Gary Plays, a series of six plays he wrote, opens May 4.

Murray Mednick

Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what The Gary Plays is about?

Murray Mednick: The central character of the 6 plays is Gary Bean, an unemployed actor whose son was shot at random in Griffith Park. The other plays came to me as I began to follow Gary’s mournful life around Los Angeles. On one level it is a work about L.A. On another, all the plays are a technical exploration of how to get “subjective” and/or personal material into the plays, and to make them more dimensional – all plays strive for Catharsis – and a lyrical, i.e. text-oriented presentation. The plays use “the chorus” premise, for example, in six different ways.

Murray Mednick (L) and director Guy Zimmerman. Photo: Gabrieal Griego

DB: The Gary Plays is a series of six individual works. How did the idea of such a series originate? How long did it take you to create the plays? And can the individual plays be understood on their own, or does an audience need to see the whole series from the beginning?

MM: Each play is complete and unto itself. You don’t need to see all of them. But there are subtle threads throughout and connective events and corresponding ideas. It’s fun to see those connections. And they enrich the whole. There is a kind of through-line, following Gary, but it’s not essential.

Jeff LeBeau in “The Gary Plays” Photo: Darrett Sanders

DB: This production is a culmination of two years of development in workshops with Open Fist Theatre Company. How did you become involved with Open Fist, and did the plays change much during the workshop process? If so, how?

MM: The plays were all produced as I wrote them. We began workshopping them a couple years ago when we realized we wanted to go for a production of all them. The workshop was mainly an editorial process, not a developmental one, although we continue to learn new things about them. The intricate, poetic connections, for example, and the amazing correlations with contemporary politics. The plays did not change much.

Peggy Ann Blow and Carl J. Johnson in “The Gary Plays” Photo: Darrett Sanders

DB: You founded and were artistic director of the Padua Hills Playwrights Workshop/ Festival, which operated from 1978 to 1995. Tell us a little about that, and what made it special.

MM: I think the Padua Hills Workshop was the best theatrical school probably in the history of America, but especially for playwrights. We teachers were off-off B’way playwrights who brought that sensibility to L.A. Hard-earned, self-taught, rigorous. The secret was its balance – we had excellent teachers, people like Maria Irene Fornes, John Steppling, John O Keefe, and me, who knew what we were talking about and could talk about it well, intelligently. The balance was between the formal workshops, taught by us, readings by the students performed by an excellent company of actors, the refined and complete discussions that followed, and the full production of a professional festival of plays, for an audience, many site-specific, and written for the festival. We took the art form seriously and did not concern ourselves with formulae or certain conventions or business and emphasized the propriety and usefulness of playwrights directing their own work. I could go on.

Laura Liguori in “The Gary Plays” Photo: Darrett Sanders

DB: In an interview some years ago, you said of Padua’s teaching that “Both the writing and the acting are like realism-plus.” Can you tell us what that means? And how are The Gary Plays examples of “realism-plus”?

MM: The phrase “realism plus” came up because at Padua we performed outside with many distractions. We had to find a way to do that and keep the integrity of the plays. I would not call it that now – but a definite acting style evolved then that was both ironic and emphatic, and not the usual realistic and naturalistic acting that we see all the time. Now I say “text oriented” because everything you need is in the text – no need for re-writing for interpretation or explanation by the actors, etc.

One rule I try for in The Gary Plays, for example, is not to speak while moving or doing all that behavior actors are addicted to. The primary material is the text in the plays and the text also forms the basis for the acting style and the intricacy of movement.

Peggy Ann Blow and Norbert Weisser in “The Gary Plays” Photo: Darrett Sanders

DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)

MM: I won best athlete from the American Legion when I graduated high school.

The Gary Plays
Written by Murray Mednick
Directed by Guy Zimmerman

May 4 – June 4 (Previews April 27-30)

Open Fist Theatre Company @ Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Tickets: (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org


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