An Interview with Daniel Reitz

Indie Theater Now asked Daniel Reitz a few questions about his play Pucker Up and Blow.

What’s this play about (in a few sentences); and what particular current issues are you addressing in it?

It’s about David, a young actor fresh from doing children’s theatre in the Midwest and newly arrived in New York, who is cast in a Broadway play written by a playwright notorious for subjecting his actors to gratuitous nudity and simulated sex, all in the name of getting himself the maximum amount of attention. David must maneuver the professional indignities as well as the personal travails of becoming involved with an ambitious young actress, also cast in the production. The play is, in one sense, about opportunism in the arts. At one end is the playwright, who invokes dubious claims about race and class to justify the outrageous content of his play, when the reality is that he’s only promoting himself. At the other end are the actors who are trying to get or keep their careers and who are attempting to find artistic satisfaction with a modicum of dignity in a very brutal profession.

Why is this issue/these issues important to you? Why should it be important to the audience?

Opportunism and opportunistic characters are great fun to explore. Pucker Up and Blow is a deliberately outrageous send-up of a patently ridiculous kind of fraud--the theatrical poseur who claims he's not trying to shock and is being utterly sincere. The not-so-funny side is the cynical exploitation of those in thrall to this poseur. I've seen actors in certain plays who have been called upon to do the most revoltingly humiliating things and my immediate reaction is anger that they felt the need to do it just to say they worked at this or that theatre, or perhaps it was a question of accumulating enough weeks to keep their health insurance. Or maybe they were deluded enough to think what they were called upon to do had import. But not to me, and not to the rest of the audience. These are the thoughts that fill the head when you see, for instance, an actor actually masturbating onstage. It's pretty clear to me who's really doing the masturbating. I ask a lot of the actors I work with sometimes, but I stand by what I do and can vigorously and articulately defend everything I write. It makes it a lot more difficult for serious artists exploring difficult or sexual subject matter when some clown is indulging in that kind of low-rent exploitation. I see an actor onstage with an erection masturbating to his naked daughter and I think--"wait a minute--what exactly am I being accused of?" And if you're gay, your motives are considered even more suspect. Pucker Up and Blow is brazen for a very serious reason.

Can a play actually bring about social change? How?

There are the classic examples of a play bringing about social change--Ibsen's A Doll House, Osborne's Look Back in Anger. Odets, Miller. Sarah Kane. I'm sure I'm forgetting other writers who deserve mention. But I don't think it happens often. Maybe the next election will change all that. But not since Tony Kushner and Larry Kramer have we had plays about social change on a scale that just about everyone could personally relate to. Catherine Filloux is that rare playwright who is passionately committed to writing about things people are squeamish to write about or even see--genocide, racism. She's unflinching and utterly devoted and I commend her for her integrity and tenacity.

If you could get one real person (past or present) to be the spokesperson for your play, who would you choose and why; and what would you want them to tell people about your work?

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka Moliere, because he was the quintessential exposer of poseurs, and he did it with irony (a dirty word in some p.c. circles). I would hope he'd defend the impassioned motive behind a play that might appear mean-spirited or "over the top." The worst word as far as I'm concerned is "gratuitous." I would like dear old Jean-Baptiste to elaborate on how this play of mine is actually anything but.

Which is more important to you in your playwriting, and why: to tell an authentic story, to make the audience laugh, to make the audience cry, or to make the audience think?

"Authentic" is exactly the word I would use to describe this play. The playwright in Pucker Up and Blow is staggeringly inauthentic but he's absolutely authentic in his self-regard. It's almost charming (well, at least it is on stage). I think if you tell an authentic story, which is always my goal (as it is the obligation of any serious playwright), you can make the audience do all those things. I hope they laugh because I think this is a very funny play, even if they cringe (cringing is good if what you're cringing at is smart, not stupid). I hope they’ll feel for David and Melora, the young actors who are only trying to find their way in love and art and career success; maybe they’ll relate to Lenny, the journeyman actor. The actors, the journeys and their struggles, are the heart of the play, because in my heart I love actors.

posted July 28, 2016