Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is Nancy Cooper Frank, writer of “Inexpressibly Blue.”
Nancy Cooper Frank is a Bay Area playwright and “Inexpressibly Blue” is her BOA debut. It’s a wry comedy about two middle-aged women with singularly appropriate names: the cheerful Felicity and her friend Dolores, who’s got the blues.
Marissa: Can you talk a little about the genesis of “Inexpressibly Blue”? What was the initial impetus for writing this script?
Nancy: I was blue one morning, and I didn’t feel like writing at all. So I wrote “I’m blue. I’m blue! I’m bluer than blue” and so on, until before I knew it, I had one character so committed to being miserable that another voice spontaneously arose to get in the first character’s face and try to cheer her up. Whether she wanted to be cheered up or not.
Marissa: You are a former professor of Russian literature and you frequently write about Russian subjects. In this country, we often stereotype Russian culture and literature as melancholy, dark, and sad. Do you think there’s a connection between your interest in Russian culture and your writing a play about sadness? Or do you disagree with the perception that Russian = melancholy?
Nancy: There’s a very funny line in Ignacio Zulueta’s play that draws on that stereotype!
Marissa: Yes, this makes for a serendipitous connection between your play and Ignacio’s “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters,” which is also in Program Two of BOA!
Nancy: I’m tickled to share a bill with his moving tribute to Three Sisters. To get back to your original question: If we had a couple of hours/vodkas, I could expand on this. Short answer: I don’t need Dostoevsky to teach me how to get into a funk. I can do that on my own. Anyway, even if Russians ‘do’ melancholy better than we do, are they really the outliers? Or is it American culture—with its insistence on cheer, and its denial of sadness—that’s strange?
Marissa: Speaking of Chekhov, you’ve hinted that there’s a hidden Chekhov reference in “Inexpressibly Blue”—are you willing to share what that is?
Nancy: In one of Chekhov’s lesser known one-act plays, “The Anniversary,” a character says “I’m so unhappy! I even drank my coffee this morning without enjoying it!” [Ed: Dolores in "Inexpressibly Blue" also says this.] She says this to gain sympathy, but it’s such a trivial statement it has the opposite effect.
Marissa: So if you’re battling a bout of the blues, what are your favorite quick remedies to cheer yourself up?
Nancy: Get outside. Walk. Walk some more.
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “Inexpressibly Blue”?
Nancy: I hope the play evokes a rueful smile or two. I hope people can see themselves in Dolores, Felicity or both.
Marissa: What about “Inexpressibly Blue,” in your opinion, makes it feel like a “Nancy Cooper Frank play”?
Nancy: Come to think of it, several of my short plays seem to set basic temperaments or character traits (optimist/pessimist; introvert/extrovert) against each other. And a kind of bleak optimism, or maybe cheerful pessimism, is a common element to many of my plays, including “Daniil Kharms: A Life in One Act and Several Dozen Eggs,” based on a real-life Russian absurdist author.
Marissa: How has the rehearsal process for “Inexpressibly Blue” been? Has the script changed at all during the process?
Nancy: The biggest change came at the very beginning of the rehearsal process, when the director, Robert Estes, suggested my characters should be engaged in an activity together—they shouldn’t just sit and talk. And so I pictured them doing tai chi together—it’s a nice accompaniment for the shifting balance of their moods and of their relationship. For one rehearsal, we had a tai chi instructor, Barbara Jwanouskos (who also happens to be a playwright), lead actors, director and coordination-challenged author through some tai chi moves in the park. My actors, Linda-Ruth Cardozo and Patti Morse, also helped me tweak some lines. I had fun working with this team!
Marissa: What’s up next for you?
Nancy: I’m writing this after midnight, fresh from workshopping a rewrite of “Daniil Kharms” that I am very pleased with. I’m looking for opportunities to produce that play. I’m also working on a one-act comedy “The Plumber.” The title character is a Slavic philosopher/plumber with the ability to make his customers more than a little blue… I’m beginning to see a pattern here.
Marissa: Nancy, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about “Inexpressibly Blue”! Its cheerful pessimism makes it the perfect curtain raiser for Program Two of BOA 2013.
“Inexpressibly Blue” appears in Program 2 of BOA 2013, with upcoming performances on September 25, 27, and 29, and October 3 and 5, at Tides Theatre.