It’s been a big theater season for playwright Craig Lucas. In November, his Prayer for My Enemy made its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons, and now comes The Singing Forest, currently in previews at the Public Theater. The new piece–directed by Mark Wing-Davey and featuring Olympia Dukakis and Jonathan Groff among its cast–explores sexual desire, psychiatry, family history, and the legacy of the Holocaust in both grave and farcical tones. On the occasion of the new play, we sent Lucas a few questions….
Tell us about the impetus for The Singing Forest.
I wrote the first scene for Uta Hagen’s 80th birthday. I sent it to her and she wrote back, “Can you really imagine me saying all these filthy things?” Olympia Dukakis does not apparently share these qualms.
A program note by Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis mentions that you’ve been working on the play for almost a decade. Is that an unusually long time for one of your plays?
There was never a time when I was not writing The Singing Forest. I will be writing The Singing Forest in my next life.
Are there any newer or younger playwrights with whom you are especially impressed??
I just spent some time with four MFA playwriting students at Brown University. Their names are Mallery Avidon, Jackie Sibblies, Mia Chung, and Joe Waechter. Absolutely amazing, all of them.
What play by another writer (not counting Shakespeare) do you most wish you’d have written?
Peter Pan. (Can you even begin to imagine the royalties?)
What’s the most entertaining mishap (at least in retrospect!) that’s ever occurred during one your plays’ performances?
Preview performance of my first play, Missing Persons. During the scene change, Margo Skinner was to enter with a glass of water in one hand and a lighter in the other and sit at one side of a card table as Richard Backus entered with a cigarette between his lips and the chessboard which he would place on the card table as he sat opposite Margo. Theoretically, the lights would come up, she would reach across the game to light his cigarette, then sip her water, wait a few beats, and then say, “It’s your move.” They collided in the dark. Ugly noises. Lights up. Man with broken cigarette dangling from lips, water dripping off cigarette and clothes, woman with empty glass of water, all the chess pieces scattered about the floor. The actors looked like two horses being led from a burning barn. She flicked the drenched lighter several times to no avail as he attempted to repair the cigarette. Silence. The rest of my life has been a complete blank.