The Braggart of Bourbon St. (FringeNYC)
An Interview with Kevin P. Joyce
Indie Theater Now asked Kevin P. Joyce a few questions about his play The Braggart of Bourbon St..
Is this play political? Why or why not?
Yes and no. On the surface "The Braggart of Bourbon St." is a wacky commedia style farce about a pathological liar, the love triangles he creates and a feud between him and his stepmother over inheritance against the drunken backdrop of Mardi Gras. It's frenzied, it's funny, it's wickedly witty and wildly entertaining. But, it's not just fun and frivolity. Certainly not with the way the play ends. At its core the play is asking us to look at lying versus manipulation of the truth, and which, in the long run, does more harm on a larger scale. Lyle is a boastful, flamboyant, pathological playboy who lies every time he opens his mouth. His stepmother, Madame Delphine, is equally as conniving and pathological, but, she doesn't lie like Lyle, she draws circles around fact to get what she wants. The play also asks us to take a look at the social structures of our America. It looks at issues such as prejudice, immigration, gender expectations and the freedoms of the First Amendment through a lens of class and stature. "Braggart" provokes the conversation: while we are granted the freedoms of speech, press, religion and assembly in the First Amendment, who is it that gets to define the limitations of those freedoms? It examines the underlying motivations of those who try to create a right answer to the freedom of speech and the liberties afforded to those who place themselves in a position to define truth.
Theater is a necessary ingredient in democratic societies. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
I one hundred percent agree. Personally, I feel that live theatre is a cultural necessity. Someone once said to me that in the theatre "we must bring the audience out of the darkness and into our light" and I believe that's why the theatre will never die. No matter if the play is improvised or thousands of years old, a play is always in the present tense; we are always in the moment with Hamlet when he meets the ghost; we are always with Mother Courage when she loses her children; we are always in the "room where it happens" when we go to the theatre. Unlike film or television, we cannot divorce the fact that these are live human beings standing, breathing, living, dying, falling in love right in front of us. It is the most kinetic form of artistic engagement, and will always be the most human art form, because it's the one art that machines cannot replace. You can't make theatre without real people and that's what makes it integral to any society.
Which political figure would like your show the best: Chris Christie, Hilary Clinton, Rand Paul, or Al Sharpton?
Truth be told, I'd like to think they'd all enjoy the play for its beguiling aesthetic and wild pageantry. I don't imagine, though, that any politician would care for the ending of the play...provided they understand it.
Who do you think has the right idea about theater: Brecht, Artaud, Shakespeare, or Aristotle?
Personally, my taste is always going to default with Shakespeare and Aristotle. Shakespeare did things with words that are inhuman. He understood the nuances of language and how to marry those nuances with motivation, character and plot. He also knew how to tell a good story. His plays are always, at the same time, familiar and fresh. One could see Hamlet a thousand times and still find something new in the text of the play. He also knew how to really mess with an audience's expectation and stigmas. Caliban, Katherine, Shylock, Othello, the list goes on. He starts these characters as archetypes that are built from underlying social preconceptions but manages to take those archetypes and create humans that any audience is going to feel connected to through language. Aristotle wrote the handbook on how to write good theatre. If one is a believer in "the Poetics" like I am, you know that he provided a check list for what makes compelling drama: story, character, moral, spectacle, language. I believe that if we're going to the theatre what we're seeing should be theatrical. There should be music, dance, I should laugh, I should think, otherwise, why did I leave my apartment? Having said all that, I actually think that Oscar Hammerstein II had the "right idea" about theatre and his works are the marriage of Shakespeare and Aristotle. All of his works check off Aristotle's boxes, and though one may call his works "cheesy" or "hokey", like Shakespeare, he captured and created language that's nuanced and true to the characters he's presenting. Characters that, like Shakespeare's, start off as archetypes but become fully fleshed humans who have something to ask us about our conceptions of race, class, gender, prejudice, sexuality and patriotism.
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?
It's important, I believe, to write stories that are human. I don't believe in "soapbox" plays, it's a play not a podium. How am I supposed to care about what ax an author is trying to grind on me if I'm not invested in the story or people I'm watching? One can bruise an audience by beating them over the head with a social/political moral, but it won't mean anything if an audience doesn't care about what they're watching. A play shouldn't tell an audience how to think about certain issues or how to view sociopolitical topics, or determine the views of whom its being performed for. If a play is going to try to tackle these things, it should make them human so that regardless of which side of the aisle one sits, one can come away from the theater with an understanding of the humanity effected by sociopolitical actions. I also think that to try and write for people who share the same views I do, or those who are opposed is profiling one's audience. A play should be universal, if one pigeon holes their work to a certain outlook, one is depriving their work of the opportunity to change someone's views or beliefs.
posted July 29, 2016