FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT OF “STINKERS”
What’s the inspiration for this play?
Usually I don’t have an idea for a play; I just start writing and see what comes out. In this case, as my children were the people with the most influence on my life at the time, I found myself writing scenes between a father and toddler son. The voices of these young characters were very clear in my head, and I knew that this wasn’t going to be the case forever so I wanted to capture that while I could. The other major influence on the play at the beginning was the fact that Sally Wingert had asked me to write a role for her. I like to think of myself as not dumb, so I took her up on her offer and now the kids had a grandmother. Suddenly the story was able to cover parent/child relationships across the generations.
What's it like to write a play when you know who will be playing the lead?
One thing I love about writing plays is that, at some point, it always becomes a collaboration with other artists. Once you know who’s going to be onstage, the writing comes a little more naturally. Even though I wasn’t in communication with Sally while I was writing the early drafts of this play, much of who the character of Joyce is came from the question, “What would be funny to see Sally do onstage?”
Why are the children portrayed by puppets?
I wanted to treat the interactions that people have with their small children as a real relationship, not just as an obstacle to our adult lives or a temporary situation while we wait for them to grow up and become “real” people.
I wasn’t interested in hearing adult characters talk about their offstage children; I wanted the kids to have a voice and a physical presence onstage. Instead of talking about being a parent, I wanted to show the act of parenting.
I considered everything from letting actors just play the roles onstage to trying to hide the puppeteers, allowing only the puppets to be visible. In the end, I think the relationship that we developed between the actor/puppeteers and their puppets does a great job of illustrating the contrast between the small and intimate stature of children as well as the outsized id that can suddenly take up an entire room.
Have your kids had any comment on what you're writing?
When Sarah first told our son that I was writing a play about him he broke out crying. To be clear though, this play isn’t about him; he just happened to be my main reference point while creating my toddler characters. More recently, however, both kids have visited rehearsals, played with several of the toys on set, and could give you a general synopsis of the play if you asked them. They’ve even given feedback on how I could make some of the scenes funnier — like have some characters hide while the other characters are trying to talk to them. They have their favorite lines (fortunately they are, for the most part, child appropriate). If you see a three-year-old walking around the theater yelling “I am a wealth magnet!” please return her to me.
Pictured at left: The playwright as rendered by his 3-year-old daughter