Pulitzer-winning playwright Lynn Nottage has three new works in New York: NPR
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Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage has been very busy in recent months – right now she has both a new play and a new musical on Broadway, as well as a new opera at Lincoln Center. I met Nottage last month at the Hayes Theater, where his new comedy, Clyde, is running. She had time to chat before going to a preview of MJ, the new musical from Michael Jackson, for which she wrote the libretto.
“I’ll tell you, in all honesty, I didn’t get much sleep,” she laughs. “It’s the dream,” she adds quickly. “The dream is to be really busy doing the thing you love, deeply immersed in creating art.”
Nottage has been living the dream since the mid-1990s, when his plays began to be produced in major theaters. Along the way, his dramas Ruined and Sweat each received the Pulitzer Prize, making her the first woman to win the category twice.
“Lynn is one of our most famous writers, and I think she has three main skills,” explains Kate Whoriskey, who directed these winning Pulitzer pieces as well as Clyde. “Firstly, she’s amazing with character, and also, she’s great with structure. And then I would say the last thing is I think she has the ability to see the future more than anyone I know, in terms of what the world is asking for. ” And she adds that what the world needs right now is light comedy, albeit with some serious undertones.
Joan Marcus / Theater of the second scene
Notation described Clyde like magical realism, and says it takes place both in the kitchen of a sandwich shop and a liminal space. All of the characters in the play are once incarcerated, including the shop owner, who is kind of the boss from hell.
Uzo Aduba, best known for her Emmy Award winning role as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in Orange is the new black, plays the evil Clyde. She admires Nottage’s choice of subjects: “She did the very difficult thing of making room for the faces, voices and stories that are often forgotten.”
When Nottage went to Reading, Penn., To research Sweat, her play on struggling blue-collar workers, she also spoke to many people who were trying to resuscitate their lives after being released from prison. So while the characters of Clyde do a dreary, repetitive job, they dream of a better future … and a better sandwich.
Nottage says comedy is about both mindfulness and the creative process. “A sandwich is very simple, but you can put it together in a way that makes those flavor combinations quite complicated,” she explains. “And I like to think of it as a metaphor for what we do as artists.”
Julieta Cervantes / Lincoln Center Theater
Nottage has recently expanded her portfolio as an artist, adapting his popular piece Intimate clothing in an opera with a score by Ricky Ian Gordon. Set at the turn of the last century, she’s a black seamstress who makes lingerie, with a clientele that includes a Fifth Avenue matron and a prostitute in the Tenderloin, all while yearning for love herself. . Nottage wrote the play when she found a photo of her great-grandmother, shortly after her mother’s death and as she moved her grandmother to dementia care.
“I had so many questions and I realized there was no one left to answer them,” she says. “It really broke my heart. And it made me think a lot, especially as an African American woman, black woman, that much of our history has been lost because of the reluctance of our relatives and their belief that our stories were not important enough to be documented. “
Gordon says that for this first Nottage opera, the two worked closely together not only to reduce the intimate piece to its essence, but also to open it up, so that it evokes the world beyond.
“Lynn is a very deep swimmer – you don’t have to worry about whether she’ll make it, make her point and grab you by the gizzard, ”Gordon says. “And he’s the kind of writer you want to work with, because writing music is hard!” And you really wanna feel like you’re going Go over there, you want the writer to go. “
Matthew Murphy Theater / Neil Simon
Nottage’s trifecta final project is a catalog starring musical from late superstar Michael Jackson. She says her music was her personal soundtrack. “I can follow my whole emotional life through the Michael Jackson songbook,” says Nottage, “so I was very excited to find a way to bring these songs to life.”
She and her collaborators decided to put the musical in the days before Jackson’s massive 1992. Dangerous world tour, as a starting point for the king of pop to reflect on his life and career. “I was interested: How does someone who is the biggest star in the world strive to be an even bigger star and create something that reflects who they are? Nottage explains. “We are talking about it as a mixtape of his life.”
The tour was ultimately cut short by Jackson’s drug addiction and the start of press reports alleging child abuse. While MJ: Musical comedy focuses on Jackson’s creative process, director / choreographer Christopher Wheeldon acknowledges the controversy surrounding his subject matter.
“Everyone brings their own feelings, their own thoughts about Michael into the house,” says Wheeldon. “And I think that’s one of the things that Lynn has done so successfully, is to create this piece of art that lets you breathe a little bit around those views.”
While the theater was on hiatus during the pandemic and after the murder of George Floyd, Lynn Nottage co-signed a document called “We See You White American Theater”, demanding institutional change. Since the reopening of Broadway, most of the plays produced have been by black playwrights.
Nottage is optimistic … but: “We must not allow ourselves to go back in time,” she said. “And part of that responsibility falls on us as artists, part of the responsibility falls on the producers and people who work in the industry. But I also think that part of the responsibility lies with the public, because it must come and support us. “
And for those who want to support it, the remaining performances of Clyde will be broadcast live throughout this weekend.