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Interview with Don DeLillo
DON DELILLO Do you need to know anything about the provenance of this little playlet?
JODY MCAULIFFE Oh, yes.
I wrote it because I was asked to by Robert Brustein for the American Repertory Theatre. It was a benefit event called a One-Minute Play Festival, and I think this was in 1992.
I know you published The Engineer of Moonlight in 1979, and that was between publication of Running Dog and before you went away for three years and worked on The Names.
Was this your first foray into playwriting?
Yes, it was, and I’m not quite sure how to explain what brought it about. I think I saw people on a stage, actually, and began to follow them and to listen to them. I would also say that I was aware at the time that I was writing something that probably was not stageworthy, in a way.
In what way, do you think?
Well, I think that play needs a greater thrust than it has, a kind of forward motion. And it’s awfully [End Page 609] conversational. But I had a surer sense of a piece of theater that seemed a little more stageworthy when I was doing The Day Room.
What got you interested in theater in the first place?
Being a New Yorker, I always, even as a kid, was aware of theater, but I never really became fervent about theater the way I did about movies. And that, in fact, is still true.
Do you have a sense of what kind of theater attracts you?
I’m looking at two photographs of Samuel Beckett at the moment. In fact, they’re passport photos that somebody sent me. Probably the theater represented by Beckett.
Pinter as well?
I think so.
Do you have any thoughts about your process as a playwright as opposed to the way you work as a novelist?
Yes, it’s quite different. When I sit down to work on a stage play, I do so with a much deeper sense of openness. That is, I know that I’m just involved in the first stage of something that isn’t going to be realized until it begins to operate three-dimensionally on a stage with living actors. And I don’t necessarily explore psychological states the way I do when I’m writing a piece of fiction. I write dialogue. And I don’t always feel a sense of predetermination concerning the meaning of this dialogue or the possible interpretations of this dialogue. I feel fairly open about this. And through the rehearsal process, I find it’s possible to be enlightened by the ways in which actors render dialogue.
Since The Day Room was your first production, was it a strange experience coming from novel-writing, and even playwriting up until that point, to the communal atmosphere of the theater?
It was very strange. I welcomed the communal spirit of the theater. But after the rehearsal period and the previews and the opening, I think I was probably ready to go back into a room all alone and work on a piece of fiction. For me, each form, play and novel, is an antidote to the other.
So you like the balance? [End Page 610]
I like the balance. Which doesn’t mean I’m going to write one play for every novel, but I do like the balance. For me, another enormous difference is that when you write a novel you have the published book, and that’s your novel, for better or worse. When you write a play, the feeling is much more elusive. The script isn’t quite the play; the published text isn’t quite the play; usually there’s no single evening, no single performance, that represents the play in your own mind. So it’s ever transient and ever elusive.
How much, if any, rewriting do you do in production?
In production, I would say fairly...