Volume 73, Number 26 | Oct 29 -Nov 04, 2003


“Private Jokes, Public Places”
The Center for Architecture,
536 LaGuardia Place Previews from Oct. 24
opens Nov. 5 Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri. at 8:30;
Sat. at 5 & 8:30; Sun. at 3 & 7 212 239-6200

Architect’s son brings play to NYU center

By Davida Singer

For its inaugural production, the new Theater at The Center for Architecture on LaGuardia Place has picked a fitting piece - - Oren Safdie’s “Private Jokes, Public Places” — which pans the world of architecture, and its general direction of late.

Safdie is in a position to know. The son of international architect, Moshe Safdie, Oren himself studied architecture at Columbia, before becoming a writer.

“I took a playwriting course at Columbia as an elective,” he recalls. “I did a one-act and got totally hooked. I’m not a very vocal person, but I saw the power to stand up and say something, and I had a lot to say. My first themes were about family-divorce, that kind of thing — and my work has stayed pretty autobiographical.”

After graduate school at Iowa State, and a short teaching stint, Safdie returned to Columbia for an MFA in 1992. He also began organizing shows at the West End Gate, a school hangout, where he penned a ten-minute scene on a young woman presenting her architecture thesis to a jury, “a very dramatic event.”

“I put it away and didn’t think about it for ten years,” says Safdie, now 38. “Then in 2001, I did a musical satire on “Fiddler on the Roof” at La Mama that got harshly reviewed for its over-the-top humor about suburban Jewish stereo-types. I took a break and decided to rewrite that early scene which became “Private Jokes, Public Places.”

What inspired him?

“I needed to prove I could write a more intellectual play, and I liked the idea of facing off against larger-than-life critics in this piece. Also, it’s an ode to my father. The title comes from an article he wrote in the 1980’s about the architectural establishment at that time. He’s actually paid a price for it.”

“Private Jokes, Public Places” was first produced in Malibu, and again last year at La Mama where it sold out. This new run, directed by Maria Mileaf, was chosen by the Center for Architecture because, according to its author, “they wanted to attract a lot of people, and the play reaches both insiders and outsiders.”

“It’s been labeled as a comedy, and the plot involves a young, Korean student, played by my wife,” Safdie explains. “She presents this project, an urban swimming pool. Anthony Rapp is a professor she’s involved with, and the whole situation spins out of control. She’s gone against the grain of style, and it’s a lot about egos. It’s done in real time, and constructed so the audience is part of the class. The whole Center is set up with projects, so it’s a real experience. This piece only has one scene — very simple — so it works well at schools and can go up anywhere.”

The biggest challenge for Safdie lately has been coming out from behind his script. Since last year’s success, he’s been asked to lecture at numerous architecture schools around the country.

“In some ways, it’s just not me,” he notes. “But because I’m stating something about architecture, it’s forced me to back up what I’m saying, especially about the Hollywoodization of the field. I feel kind of naked. I’m more comfortable in public now, but I have turned down a couple of things because they don’t fit me. And the play kind of says what I wanted to say. I’d really rather bring the actors and have them read from it.”


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