Amy Herzog: On Family, Grief and Playwriting

by Julie Haverkate

in Interviews,Playwrights,TCG Books

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Back in June, TCG published Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles & After the Revolution. After the Revolution is a moving portrait of an American family forced to reconcile its thorny and delicate legacy, while in 4000 Miles, a 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist, a young man seeks solace from his feisty 91 year-old grandmother in her New York apartment in a quiet rumination on mortality and how two outsiders find their way in today’s world.

The playwright was kind enough to share a few thoughts on her new book.

Julie Haverkate: Both plays adapt moments and people from your life and family and are loosely connected by the character Vera. Was the latter intentional — did you set out to tell two stories involving Vera?

Amy Herzog: I didn’t set out to write more than one play about my family. I found in writing After the Revolution that the scenes with Vera, who’s based on my grandmother, Leepee, were among the most fun to write and the most successful. Though I gave Vera the last word in After the Revolution, I had a nagging feeling once I’d finished the play that I wasn’t done with her. When I was in Williamstown workshopping the play for the first time, I received the terrible news that my cousin’s close friend — a young man who I’d met briefly — had died in an accident. I was overwhelmed when I thought about my cousin’s grief and the senseless loss of this beautiful, talented young man. In a way that I can only describe as passive, 4000 Miles started to take shape in my mind, and I wrote it over the course of the next eight or nine months.

Julie Haverkate: Did your grandmother and the rest of your family enjoy seeing versions of themselves on stage?

Herzog: My relatives have been extremely supportive and good-humored about the plays. I know it’s been hard for them — a few of them in particular — but everyone has made the effort to be generous in as honest a way as possible. My Uncle Andrei, on whom the character Ben in After the Revolution is based, has been especially enthusiastic, traveling around the country to see regional productions of the play that I haven’t seen myself. I know his favorite part of the play, or the part that most moves him, is a scene Ben is not in: it’s the phone call in Act II between Emma and her step-mother, Mel (based on Andrei’s long-time partner, Pam). Whether in Williamstown or New York or Chicago or Pawtucket, when Mel reaches out to Emma across all that history and all that anger, Andrei weeps in the audience. I don’t know what exactly about the scene reaches him in that way, and I’m not sure Andrei does either. I think it has to do with the profound depth of his love and respect for Pam, and maybe it’s also about all the times in the history of our family that that phone call has not happened — about the failures to override difference with love. But I really don’t know. And I fully expect Andrei to find this interview, think deeply about it, and contact me with his own theory.

Amy Herzog, author of Belleville. Steven Padla says Yale can grant permission to use as long as we credit the photographer. Herzog received the 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award and the 2008 Helen Merrill Award for Aspiring Playwrights. Her plays have been produced or developed at the Yale School of Drama, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Arena Stage, Actors Theatre of Louisville, New York Stage and Film, Playwrights Horizons, Provincetown Playhouse and American Conservatory Theater. Her critically acclaimed works include Belleville and The Great God Pan.

HaverkateJulie Haverkate is the marketing associate at Theatre Communications Group. Previously, she has worked at Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester, MI), as well as in the literary offices of Electric Pear Productions and the Summer Play Festival in NYC. Julie has lectured and presented at conferences internationally, and her book, PARADE Diverges, was published by VDM. In addition to dramaturging every now and again, she also reviews for Show Business, writes the blog Critical Confabulations and is a proud alumna of Florida State University (M.A. Theatre Studies).