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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coney: An interview with playwright David Johnston

My very good friend David Johnston (Busted Jesus Comix, Candy & Dorothy) has a new play on the horizon. It's produced by Blue Coyote Theater Group, my own artistic home for many years now. Directed by Gary Shrader, it sports a cast of compelling performers including Frank Anderson, Jilliane Gill, Boo Killebrew, Dave Lapkin and Stephen Speights.

It runs Oct. 27 - November 17th at the New Ohio. Here's the website with all pertinent information.

I had to chance to send a few questions about the show David's way. He makes great answers out of my serviceable questions. The interview follows from here.


What inspired you to write a play about Coney Island? I mean, obviously, Coney Island is inspirational and unique. But what aspect most appealed to you initially? The carnival atmosphere? The old-Brooklyn feel? The community? 

I love Coney Island the way I love eighties horror movies. I mean, there's nothing like watching a guy juggle chainsaws to get you out of your own head, you know? Who can be depressed watching little kids in cardboard lobster costumes running around at the Mermaid Parade? They once showed "Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill" at their film series in the summer, then I went and got clams and beer and I thought, this evening cannot be improved ever.  I think because I'm not a native New Yorker, it's even more appealing.  It never feels old hat to me. 

I didn't set out to write a play about Coney Island - but one day I realized I would have to deal with my anger over Robert Altman dying and not making the Coney Island film I think he should have made. I was taking it personally.  So I decided to write it myself.

 From what I'm reading, the play seems to be a statement about gentrification, or at least, has something to say about it. Is that accurate? 

 I don't think it's really a statement of anything.  Gentrification is a part of what's happening there, but I didn't want to write a play about gentrification.  You know me, Freeman.  I'm not good with "big idea" plays.  I prefer male nudity and foul-mouthed showgirls. 

What is the "story" of Coney? Or is it more of a collage?

It's a number of colliding and overlapping stories - the play started out as a bunch of discrete scenes with different characters, and it wasn't interconnected at all.  But there were definitely things that were on my mind with these people - there's a lot about parents and children, people who want to be parents, people who aren't very good parents, and kids who suddenly have to take care of their parents.  But it's still comedy - my stuff always ends up a comedy, even when I think it's a drama.  So yeah, there's people dealing with love and kids and family and mortality, but there's also a chupacabra and  a two-headed cow and a botched mind-reading act.

 Coney sports a large and diverse cast, with wide range of ages. Why was this level of diversity important to the play? 

Because that's what Coney's like when you go out there.

What do you hope the audience will consider or think about as they watch the play?

Oh God give me an easy question, Freeman! I hope they have a good time, or they think it's funny or they're moved. I hate plays where someone's telling me what to think. I always want to corner the writer and say, you know, I can make up my own damn mind as to where genocide falls on the moral spectrum, I don't need you to show me!  I like a script that asks a question I haven't thought of.  Do I sound crabby?  I'm not really. 

I know you're a lover of cinema and there are a lot of cinematic influences on the script. Could you map those out a bit for us?

If I map them out, then you won't be surprised and delighted by them when you see the show! OK, I'll map out a few.  The play references "The Warriors," Hitchcock, Tod Browning, "Nightmare Alley" starring Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell, "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3" NOT THE REMAKE and "Blade Runner." But don't worry - there's nothing elegant or economical about the referencing. I'm proud of the fact that I do it in an extremely ham-fisted and obvious way. 

Finally, what's the most fun thing about Coney? 

I have a hunch, it's going to be this one character's entrance. But I don't want to say which one because that will jinx it. By the way, Freeman, when are you going to leave your wife for me? Haven't we kept up this charade long enough? 

Tickets are here!

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