A tangled tale of love, sex and ethics – ‘Ferocious’ hit comedy to premiere in Melbourne.
Nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama as well as being nominated Best New Play in three 2009 New York theatre awards (the Off-Broadway League, the Outer Circle Critics and the Drama Desk), Gina Gionfriddo’s comedy of bad manners, a tangled tale of love, disaster on a blind date, sex and ethics among a quartet of men and women in their 30s, is, according to rave US reviews in The New York Times, as engrossing as it is ferociously funny. It has been likened to a big box of fireworks fizzing and crackling across the stage from its first moments to its last.
Gionfriddo is already an Obie Award-winning playwright and is no stranger to television aficionados’ who will recognize her work as a writer on shows such as Law and Order and Cold Case as well as working as executive story editor and producer on these shows. Her other theatre works include After Ashley and U.S. Drag.
So how does Gionfriddo identify and overcome the challenges inherent to the different mediums of TV and the Stage. She explains in a recent interview with The Wilma Theater, New York.
"I feel a play has to say something important, or really shift an audience’s consciousness in some important way. I don’t feel that pressure in television, and that’s not to say I take it lightly, but I do think in film and TV it’s enough to entertain and I don’t feel that’s enough in theatre. Partly that’s a function of this cultural moment. Film and TV are increasingly accessible. I have movies on-demand through my cable service that were in theaters last week. The point is… There’s so much great film and TV available in my apartment, so I bring very high expectations to theatre. It’s expensive, it’s uncomfortable. More and more I regard plays as the place you go to hear some truth or ask some question that film and TV can’t or won’t give you. The challenge I find writing for television is that you don’t have an audience captive from episode one to episode twenty-two (unless your audience is watching the season in order, beginning to end, on DVD, of course—but you can’t count on that). So you really have to be thinking clarity clarity clarity when you write. You have to make the episode accessible to a new or newish viewer, and I find that obligation somewhat limiting. Of course, the really excellent cable dramas like Mad Men and The Sopranos assume the audience is committed to watching the whole season, so the writers can get into character arcs and nuance and ambiguity. The shows I’ve written have been police procedurals. That kind of show is designed to be syndication-friendly. The episodes need to stand alone, you can run them out of order… I like those shows a lot, but they don’t accommodate character complexity very well. The goal is entertainment."
Gionfriddo’s plays are comedies first and foremost however do deal with social issues and have been called moral comedies. Here she talks about the role of comedy in her work.
"I think with the first two plays—U.S. Drag and After Ashley—I was writing about stuff I observed in American culture that seemed absurd to me, so the humor came organically out of that. I think U.S. Drag just gets more and more relevant, unfortunately. I’m thinking of the stunts we’ve seen recently—balloon boy and the couple who crashed a White House party—by people trying to get noticed, get a reality TV show. In U.S. Drag I was exploring that “look at me!” drive in our culture and in After Ashley I was interested in the other bizarre impulse that makes this kind of entertainment profitable—the pleasure of watching other people’s humiliation and misfortune. I think where morality comes in is that I watch a few of these shows and that makes me part of the problem, but I can’t stop. And my fear is that the cumulative effect of, say, laughing at reality show contestants and watching true crime every night may be that our humanity erodes. We’re using other people’s pain to entertain ourselves. I wouldn’t know how to take this on in a non-comic way, just because I think the questions I want to engage are pretty dark and the phenomenon so ridiculous. With Becky Shaw, I was preoccupied with the same issues of personal morality. What’s my responsibility to people I don’t know or know slightly? It’s been suggested to me that the Iraq War was what stirred this up for me, and I think that’s probably accurate. There was a period of time when the war just fell off the American radar. The news was all about Britney Spears’ custody battle. It felt very surreal to me and wrong, but I didn’t take any action to change the situation. Again, I think it’s the absurdity that leads to the comedy for me. Obama just announced his plan for the war in Afghanistan and CNN is doing round-the-clock coverage of Tiger Woods’ car accident. That is funny to me. Dark funny."
And, she says, the hook that gets a new play started for her is a question she can’t answer. Usually it’s a moral or ethical question she’s wrestling with.
Becky Shaw, the tale of Newlyweds Andrew and Suzanna who never imagine the cataclysmic consequences when they set up best friend Max with Andrew’s seemingly innocent new work colleague, Becky can be seen at the MTC Lawler Studio from October 27 – November 14. Bookings on 8688 0800 or www.mtc.com.au/beckyshaw.aspx Ticketmaster: 1300 723 038 or www.ticketmaster.com.au