Playwright’s Notes: Steven Drukman
Funny word: playwright — so often misspelled, given that “wright”and “write” are homonyms. But any playwright can tell you that plays are wrought — crafted — more than they’re written. You might ask four different wheelwrights to make you four different wheels; you wouldn’t ask any to write you one. Hand-wrought jewelry looks lovely on your wrist; it didn’t get there via haiku. The dramatist’s job is to construct an event, playing out in a circumscribed space, within a reasonable amount of time. Tools from the toolbox include stage directions, rising action, conflicts (internal and external), reveals, reversals — all embedded with different emphases, all inlaid in proper order. Yes, Shakespeare soliloquized, and Tennessee lilted lyrically, but in general, we playwrights leave the odes to Keats. We’re architects of beats.
Actors, eventually, become our co-builders, and I’m fortunate to have had the five creatures in this cast treading these boards. They flesh out my blueprint. They have skin in the game. Designers, too, check your program: they’ve provided shape and color. Technicians? Gobs of them. Prop masters. Stitchers. From the start there’s been an all-seeing director — in Pru Payne’s case, one of bottomless bonhomie. A stage manager, who manages. All of them, knitting and knotting this thing—it takes a love of labor to wright this labor of love.
And what sparked it all? Pru Payne was born of my unease when, back in 2016, an unruly populace signaled that our country’s standards were declining, that we’d shrugged off Enlightenment ideals long held sacred. I feared our species’ tendency to forget, knowing that if we consign our aspirations to oblivion, we might drift into this cultural amnesia, not unlike … wait for it … dementia. I’d had these stirrings before: in the 1980s, when our nation’s unmooring began, when the first wisps of brain fog appeared. I surmised that locating Pru Payne in that decade would cause my audience to wonder if we’ve slipped even further. (Another tool from the toolbox: dramatic irony.) So, I produced drafts — each draft rebuilding, ever renovating, and each draft now shredded, of no use to you. (When you remodel your home, the contractor doesn’t save you the sawdust.)
At the right moment, I loosened my grip on the wrenches: if a play’s almighty creator knows when to let go — mirabile dictu! — the characters take over, and reveal the play to their God-like architect. Turns out Pru Payne is a play about love. Love? Could this mean I believe in love’s power to reach across cultural difference, and that love might — just might — save our species? Crikey: What hath God wrought?
Labor and love — good watchwords. I am thankful that they were given to me in ample supply by everyone who had a hand in this conjuring. I thank the Arizona Theatre Company for their faith, their commitment, and their real estate. And I thank you, all of you — the final makers of this concoction — for helping to finish this play, just by coming out to the theatre. I hope I did wright by you.