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Exorcising the Dark Side: Playwright David Adjmi Talks Elective Affinities

One of this season’s hottest tickets is a site-specific theater piece entitled Elective Affinities.

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Exorcising the Dark Side: Playwright David Adjmi Talks Elective Affinities

When a trio of edgy, downtown theater producing companies—Soho Rep, piece by piece productions, and Rising Phoenix Repertory—invite audiences to a tea party in an Upper East Side mansion, there must be something subversive afoot. One of this season’s hottest tickets is a site-specific theater piece entitled Elective Affinities. You take your seat in the parlor of a townhouse which doubles as the richly decorated living room of a well-heeled socialite, the rather grand Mrs. Alice Hauptman, played to the hilt by Tony-winning actress Zoe Caldwell. Caldwell regales her “guests” (30 theatergoers each night) with a witty and entertaining stream of consciousness. Soon enough, Alice’s oh-so-genteel soiree veers into perverse moral territory, leaving you wondering if indeed the choice to bestow love on select people in our lives, demands that we hate the others that don’t share our perspective. The author of this hour-long monologue is 38-year-old Brooklyn-born playwright David Adjmi, who first made his name in New York in 2009 with Stunning, a satirical tragedy drawn from his own Syrian-Jewish roots. We talked recently with Adjmi about his work:

Alice Hauptmann, with her upper crust WASP background, seems worlds away from the characters in Stunning. Are there any similarities?

I mainly write about WASPS. Stunning actually was the one play where I didn’t. I don’t want to ride this identity politics train, which I felt happened a little bit with Stunning. One of the reasons why that play got such a lot of attention was the people were like—Syrian, Sephardic, gay—you could go on and on with the hyphenates. And it made me feel slightly self-conscious. And maybe some people might have felt that it was somewhat opportunistic—“Oh, he’s using this part of himself.” I wasn’t at all. I just wrote it as a private conversation to have with myself. It was not a play that I ever thought would have gotten done. I was going a little bit nuts when I wrote it frankly and you can feel that in the play. That play is very much about people who are marginalized in a way that feels incomprehensible to other people. They can’t even articulate the ways in which they are marginalized.

I think, ultimately, I write about people who are outsiders and then impersonate insiders, or they want to be part of the inside. Alice is part of a privileged cultural elite but I think deep down she’s an outsider. I’m very interested in this notion of Cartesian foundationalism—breaking apart the bedrock to really look underneath and say what is this really? Elective Affinities is about a woman confronting certain choices that she’s made, certain relationships that she’s had at the end of her life. And, I guess, realizing that what she thought was real isn’t real and she doesn’t always know how to defend it.

So how did Elective Affinities come about?

I wrote it about 10 years ago, when I was still a graduate student. I was commissioned by the Royal Court Theatre [in London] to do a short play for them, right after September 11, for this human rights festival. I had just come back to New York to do this program at Julliard and I was completely traumatized, I couldn’t imagine writing anything, about human rights or anything else. But then I couldn’t stop writing. I ended up writing about 350 pages. It was like this crazy, epic Thomas Mann drama. And inside of that there were about six sentences that this one woman says. I showed it to a friend of mine and she said, “I think you should make this into a monologue.” And then another friend also said the same thing. I had never written a monologue before. I just let the character go and followed wherever she took me. She really didn’t want to shut up. And for me that’s heaven—when you commune with your character in that way. Sometimes in the theater a dramaturge, or some producer, will say, “Why can’t this character do this?” It’s because she doesn’t. If people are pushing too many rewrites that don’t agree with my characters, they rebel. They won’t engage and they just shut down. It’s a mysterious and weird thing.

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Your plays cover a wide range of subjects. Christian fundamentalism in The Evildoers and the Syrian-Jewish community in Stunning, for example. Where do they come from?

I write plays because I have to exorcise certain things. It’s like I’m trying to reach for one thing, but I’m also trying to expel something else inside of myself. There are things in my unconscious that need to come out. Some sort of demon or dark side of myself. I thought I was going to write a comedy after The Evildoers because that was a very dark play. I thought I would write something kooky and fun, and then Stunning took this hairpin turn. I have this fantasy of being Noel Coward and I really want to do frothy light things. And yet I’m always undone because I always encounter the hard wall of reality.

Did you always want to be a writer?

When I was a little boy I wanted to dance and sing. I wanted to be like Fred Astaire. It felt so magical for me and I liked this idea that it seems so effortless. I’m a pretty good dancer actually, but I can’t sing. But in a way, my plays are really musicals. I score them like music. Zoe [Caldwell] has actually said this to me. She’s very attentive to every last piece of punctuation. She reads it like a score.

I grew up with a very, shall we say, animated group of women in my life—my mother, her sisters, my sister, my cousins—and they were all much older. I was the youngest one and I would have all these big people talking over each other and creating this kind of cacophony—it was like John Cage. It was amazing. So if something feels too linear when I’m writing—if it’s not fractured in any way, if people aren’t jumping over each other’s lines—it doesn’t feel right to me. It’s totally intuitive for me.

What’s coming up next?

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My next play, Marie Antoinette, a co-production between American Repertory Theater and Yale Rep opens next season. It’s about Marie Antoinette topically, but it’s really a play about America and it’s about people in my life. I wrote it during the Bush years and unfortunately it’s still enormously relevant. It has drawing-room comedy elements and then it definitely has German tragic elements. The other play, 3C, is happening at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in June. I don’t want to give too much away, but again, it’s very funny, it’s somewhat disturbing and it takes a lot of hairpin turns.

What would like most for an audience to take from your plays?

I think about that all the time. I want to see a full-scale cultural transformation! So if I can participate in that I will. I don’t know if that’s what I can do. I know that the plays that I love have transformed me completely. I think that art is there to change people, but people have to be open to change. So I feel like with my work, with my cast and with my director, it’s almost like we try to cast this spell. I think anyone who’s been to an amazing performance, even a rock concert, it’s ecstatic, it’s transcendent. It’s what the Greeks were doing—it’s Dionysius. I think the theater has a moral obligation to start telling these other kinds of stories. You have to get the audience into that zone where suddenly they are ready to hear it. My ideal audience is anyone who wants to listen.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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