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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Interview with Playwright Daisy Foote
By Elyse Sommer
See my postscript after seeing Buthan in yellow box preceeding my interview -- e.s.
Could you sum up your new play for us?
The play goes back and forth in time as we learn why Warren Conroy (son, brother and nephew) has ended up in prison. As this question is answered we learn about the complicated life of his family. And we learn about the life of his town, Tremont, and how it parallels the disturbing trajectory of many small towns in America.
Where and how did the idea for it originate?
I became fascinated with the two boys in Vermont who brutally and randomly murdered the Dartmouth professors in 2001. I tried to write a play about a boy who commits a brutal murder and how it impacts his family. But the play I came up with was only as interesting as the horrible crime. I went back to it in 2003 and thought what would happen if a boy ends up in prison almost by accident but still must pay the consequences. And what if it he was the glue in the family, the one who everyone loved -- what then?
While you've written other plays -- Does Bhutan have anything in common with themes and characters in that or any of your other plays. And how is it different?
I think there are the obvious similaritie s-- a family drama, set in a small town in New Hampshire. But I'm becoming more and more interested with this idea of class in America. How as Americans we are so far apart in terms of class, priorities and so on. Are these differences going to eventually lead to our destruction? Bhutan explores these questions in a much more direct way than my other plays.
Plays featuring the Foote name have been something of a family business-your father, sister Hallie and you? Is this your first solo - no sister in cast, no father to direct?
No, I've had plays directed by others. And someone else directed my play Hand of God done at Indiana Rep. and Evan has directed two other pieces of mine.
What is different for you in working with Evan Yionoulis
Well, she's not my father, is she? No, what's different is that they obviously have distinct approaches. But what is also similar is that they really work with the actors in this deep way. They ask interesting questions and really dig down beneath the surface of the characters. The other thing that is similar and maybe the similarities are why I feel so comfortable with Evan is that Evan has an amazing ability with script. She can ask one simple question about the text and say so much. And give me so many ideas. The differences -- I don't know, they are just different but in good ways.
And, while no other Foote family member is aboard for this venture, you do have another daughter of a well-known father, Amy Redford . How did this come about? Did you know Ms. Redford previously?
I've known Amy for years. A mutual friend, Brooke Smith, introduced us. And she did a reading of a play of mine, Hand of God,- years ago, then went to the O'Neill with me to work on the play. And that is where she met Evan. When I wrote this part, I knew she had to do it. Amy is perfect for my work; she has a real understanding for these people I write about. And she is an amazing actor with an impeccable sense of truth.
Has your father's quiet style of playwriting influenced your plays -- and if so, how?
I think he has been relentless about being truthful on stage. And by this I mean an honesty in style, no need to be provocative just for the sake of being so. I guess I'm like that too. Or at least I hope I am. But we are also different. I think we are drawn to different kinds of people and ideas. And yet, when I listen to this play I have to say I see similar themes.
What would you say is the main difference between your style and his?
Oh Lord, I don't know. But we are different. And he has always encouraged those differences.
Growing up with a playwright father did you feel the need for any formal training as a playwright? If not, what DID you study (and where)?
I read a lot of plays. And I studied for a summer with Herbert Berghof at HB Playwrights Foundation. Herbert was a big believer in the writing being truthful. And my father worked with me a lot in the beginning. He would go through my early plays with me. And he also is a great proponent of the truth. But after that, I was on my own. It's funny but I think America is the only place where all these graduate writing programs flourish.
What have been your other major influences?
O'Casey. Chekhov. And I'm crazy for Alan Ayckbourn. I think he is so undervalued and is just an incredible talent. A huge, huge influence.
The play is being presented as part of "Celebrating Women Playwrights" do you consider it a woman's play?
Well the women characters are three out of four characters. They are all very forceful. But it is more human than anything else. How's that for a precious answer?
Also, what would you say to discussions about how male playwrights outnumber women and that they produce a larger body of work to consider.
Oh, Lord don't get me started. And then you read in the Times about these young women who have decided while they are in college, getting a good education that they will be married with kids and out of the work force by the time they are thirty-two. That's an active decision that they are making. That they will turn their lives over to someone else, let themselves be supported by these husbands. You read that and you do get very frustrated. I just want to be considered seriously, woman or not.
This play is being presented as a work in progress and is not open for review-- do you expect a lot of changes to be made at the end of this brief run or are you satisfied with your script as it now stands?
There will be some changes. But I've been working on the play for a while now, so not too much.
What place do you call home - and any other personal information you'd like to share with CurtainUp readers?
I live in the Hudson Valley in Stone Ridge NY in a big rambling farmhouse with a wonderful husband, the actor and director Tim Guinee. And we have two great dogs, Buddy and Bran.
Have you worked in other media? -- movies, television
I've written screenplays including an adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent for Steppenwolf Films.
What's next for you?
Working with a producer, Dan Lupovitz, on my screenplay about the writer, Lucy Grealy. Finishing up my screenplay based on the book, Church of the Dead Girls. And finishing my new play. Ms. Foote's screenplays include an adaptation of Elizabeth Jolley's The Last Crop; Water Music.
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