My play STUFF returns to DC for six nights in March at Studio 1469.
An Interview with John Feffer

Indie Theater Now asked John Feffer a few questions about his play Stuff.

Is this play political? Why or why not?

My play STUFF is about growing old and dealing with the stuff we all accumulate during our lives. The stuff of the play refers not just to physical objects -- which audience members circulate throughout the performance -- but also the secrets that we hold on to. When my mother died, she left behind a set of diaries that she wrote after she retired and a collection of love letters that my father sent to her before they got married. From those literary documents as well as an interview I conducted with my mother shortly before she died, I was able to piece together the secrets that she kept. The most obvious secret was her early political affiliations. But there was an even more deeply buried secret that was political as well, in the sense that “political” is fundamentally about power relations. Stuff is about those two secrets, but it also involves addresses some other explicitly political issues, such as Paul Robeson's visit to one of my possible relatives, Itzik Feffer, in Moscow in 1949.

Theater is a necessary ingredient in democratic societies. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

I think that theater is a necessary ingredient in any modern society. Shakespeare didn't live in a democratic society. Nor did Chekhov. In a less positive sense, theater has played an important role in propagating and maintaining the official ideologies of authoritarian regimes, such as North Korea. More generally, I would say that the stage is where the dreams and nightmares of society are enacted for an audience of amateur psychoanalysts to watch and interpret. Dreamwork is a necessary way for individuals to process the events of the day – along with fears and wishes -- in a "safe" environment. And the theater can function in the same way for democratic societies. It can be a place where we process challenging social interactions in a "safe" environment.

Which political figure would like your show the best: Chris Christie, Hilary Clinton, Rand Paul, or Al Sharpton?

I would imagine that Hillary Clinton would like my show the best because it is ultimately about how a woman struggles to assert her identity within her marriage, her profession, and society at large. Certainly Hillary Clinton could relate to the challenge of what a woman is willing to sacrifice in order to achieve her larger goals.

Who do you think has the right idea about theater: Brecht, Artaud, Shakespeare, or Aristotle?

I've always been a big fan of Brecht, of using theater to jar audiences out of preconceived notions. Sometimes his plays were, however, overly schematic and lacked the blood and sinew of real drama. That, for me, is the trick of it: to draw the audience into the “reality” of the play and, at the same time, provide a disorienting shock.

Is it more important to you to write about people who have the same political/social views as you, or people who have entirely different ones?

Ultimately I want to portray characters who are sufficiently idiosyncratic that they necessarily hold different political/social views than I do. After all, it’s only when we state propositions at a general level – and therefore a not-very-interesting level – that we can establish political/social commonality. That’s an essential element of politics. But it doesn’t necessarily make for good theater. At the same time, I do aim to create plays that speak to our common humanity. Again, that’s the trick of it: to tell a story that is both unique and universal.

posted February 7, 2016