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Alien nation: an interview with the playwright.

Is this a play about Lincoln?

No, it's not. Well, not really. I think it has more to do with greatness and costume, actually. You could look at Lincoln and see him as the sum of his outfit. You know, his beard (actually he had lots of different kinds of beards) and his hat, coat, vest and shoes.

What inspired you to write this play?

I wanted to write about a hole. You can riff on that word, you can think about that word and what it means and where it takes you (or where it took me, anyway). You think of h-o-l-e and then w-h-o-l-e and then black hole, and then you think of time and space, and when you think of time and space you think of history, and suddenly all these things are swirling around and things start attaching themselves to each other and suddently you have two characters sitting in a hole digging and a guy who looks like Abraham Lincoln appears. And, 'Wow, that's interesting.'

What is the significance of the John Locke quote?

Putting it at the beginning of the play and also in the program notes may encourage people to think about the idea of America in addition to the actual day-to-day reality of America. "In the beginning all the world was America." All the world was an uncharted place, a blank slate, and since that beginning everyone's been filling it with tshatshkes, which we who come next receive and must do something with.

In an interview a few years ago you said that people not from the dominant culture are the people who can challenge the form of things...

Well, everybody can. There are people who challenge the form who are trying to make a splash, you know. And if you want to be weird, I suppose that's one reason to do things that are nontraditional. But if you feel that the traditional shape of things doesn't accommodate what you are doing, then it's a more organic and natural process. Suddenly you find yourself doing something else. So yeah, a person from a nondominant whatever--a person like me--might realize that more quickly. But there's a tradition of white guys--white, weird, cool, straight guys--doing that. Like Sam Shepard's early stuff. Obviously the well-made play wasn't suiting him at all.

Do you think the same thing is true if you look at history, as you do in this play, that you're going to maybe look at it differently--

If you're from--

If you're from a nondominant--

If you're from Mars? I think that's the word we should use, Mars. Capital "MARS" or maybe a lowercase "m" to stand for that thing. The other. The alien. I take issue with history because it doesn't serve me--it doesn't serve me because there isn't enough of it. In this play, I am simply asking, "Where is history?", because I don't see it. I don't see any history out there, so I've made some up.

Well, in the play it's a theme park.

Right, it's a theme park and the characters pass by and they wave. That's what it is to me. I can get more out of history if I joke with it than if I shake my finger at it and stomp my feet. The approach you take toward your subject really determines what you're going to get. So I say to history, "Anything you want. It's okay, you can laugh."

Do you see any kind of change in your playwriting since you started?

Yeah, yeah. The subjects have changed. But there are some things that are similar. I tend to still be interested in musical forms because they offer greater, infinite, incredible possibilities--whereas traditional dramatic forms are not as interesting. Or, to say it a different way, traditional dramatic forms are, I think, more interesting when they are informed by music. That's what I've been interested in for years. This is my 11th year writing plays..

And you're how old?

I'm old enough to be writing plays. But I think I've gotten better. And I still like putting footnotes on plays.

I associate footnotes with a kind of academic writing.

But I love them, they're so great! It's not like, "so you'll understand this play you have to read this line." Most of them are totally made up and ridiculous. One of them talks about some of the Foundling Father's unpublished works. One of them talks about what Mary Todd might have said on the night her husband died. It's playing, again, with the form and the idea of a footnote.

But you haven't asked me about those extra character names in the text.

You did that on purpose?

The word "pause" does not equal "LINCOLN. BOOTH. LINCOLN. BOOTH." It doesn't. Imagine, you go down the page and you read "LINCOLN. BOOTH. LINCOLN. BOOTH. LINCOLN. BOOTH. LINCOLN. BOOTH. Thus to the tyrants." It's very different if you read "Long Pause. Thus to the tyrants." "Long pause"--what is that? It's garbage, you know what I mean?

So what's the difference between a "Rest" and seeing the character's name?

Well, "Rest" is actually a great word. It's musical. And having the word "rest" over and over and over to indicate every single place where the character takes a little break in between paragraphs of speech is perfect. See, the words I write down on the page are the words that I want you to take inside your head. Every word you put in a play should be like this guy (picking up a volume of Joyce). Playwrights should get tough and write literature instead of just writing a show. You shouldn't just plop some language together and get people to cry. It should be literature, a show and some sort of historical document--which is what a play is. Why not do all three?
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Title Annotation:Suzan-Lori Parks
Author:Pearce, Michele
Publication:American Theatre
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 1, 1994
Previous Article:Seers on the rim.
Next Article:The America Play.

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