Cast of The Long Christmas Ride Home
Dramatist Paula Vogel often tells her students at Brown University that we as playwrights have to be fearless, and she doesnt leave herself out of the equation. The author of numerous acclaimed plays like The Baltimore Waltz, Mineola Twins and The Oldest Profession has taken a leap in a new direction with The Long Christmas Ride Home- her very own puppet play and first full-length since her Pulitzer Prize winner, How I Learned To Drive.
Directed by Mark Brokaw, with puppets designed by Basil Twist, The Long Christmas Ride Home involves a family car spun out of control - following a disastrous holiday dinner - and three siblings hurled into the future where they confront remnants of childhood.
In town for rehearsals and the plays opening performances at the Vineyard, Vogel discussed her latest venture and the current climate of American theater.
DS: What are your favorite themes to write about?
PV: I dont think in terms of themes, but techniques. Ive never written or seen a play like this. Its A Christmas Carol meets The Ice Storm. Is it autobiographical? No, there are no puppets in my family. But there is commonality with How I Learned To Drive. Ive done a lot of research on cars, and this also takes place in one- in the back seat. Ive been working on it in my head since How I Learned To Drive was produced, and I did a huge amount of reading for it about Japanese theater, and Western puppet plays and the works of Wilder. Its also an homage to his short plays, especially Our Town and Christmas Dinner.
DS: Why are you using puppetry here?
PV: An image came into my head. I was thinking of how I could get a new angle on childhood and adult perspective. Its very much an adult puppet play- certainly not Avenue Q-but you can use the same techniques for something much more serious. In Japan, Bunraku is a serious form, and I thought that was intriguing. Its also close to a music piece with music and dance, and we have a percussionist-David Van Tieghem-who plays and underscores the soundtrack.
DS: How did you bring it all together?
PV: The play now makes complete sense, but at first we were all blinking at each other. As terrifying as it was to write this, how scary for the actors who never touched puppets before! Basil trained them in four weeks, and throughout the process I kept saying the puppets will show us how to do this. And they did. The child/adult world was experienced through process too by all in the production, and the designers created something beautiful. I think puppets allow us to do that. Theres a terrible beauty here.
DS: Youve been teaching for 19 years. How do you view the present scene, and the future of theater?
PV: Ive got former students with work all over the City, and its wonderful to see how they view the world in new and different ways. But I am worried about the future of theater, so in teaching, Im here to make sure theater will be produced in 2010. What Im perplexed about is that Im told cynicism is the fashion today. But those who feel that dont teach, or they wouldnt feel that way. Is our 9/11 response to produce art that is jaded and cynical? Its not my response to it.
DS: And whats your response to this production?
PV: The newness of it is very challenging, and the size of it-with 12 people on stage. The puppets and Basil are the most delightful part. Theyre absolutely entrancing, and Im in the flush of puppet love. I think one thing thats interesting is that it is post-9/11, and even in terrible times, when you look back, you can recognize there really is something beautiful.