“Why Not Us?”: Lisa Kron on 9/11 and In the Wake

by Julie Haverkate

in Interviews,Playwrights,TCG Books

Post image for “Why Not Us?”: Lisa Kron on 9/11 and In the Wake

(Photo by Joan Marcus)
Back in March, TCG published In the Wake by the Obie award-winning playwright of 2.5 Minutes and the book writer for the recent hit musical, Fun Home. In her newest published work, Lisa Kron takes on the big question of our country’s character with Ellen, a political junkie, who on the Thanksgiving following the controversial 2000 election, discovers that ideas about America and our own selves are not as fixed as they once seemed. Lisa was kind enough to take a few moments to discuss her new book.

Julie Haverkate: In the Wake is set against the backdrop of the Bush years – the 2000 election, 9/11. What specifically inspired you to write the play?

Lisa: I started work on In the Wake shortly after George Bush’s re-election in 2004. Good lefty that I am, I had responded to his policies with revulsion and had been appalled by the right’s outright and implied assertion of American exceptionalism as moral justification for that administration’s actions.  Then, after 9/11, I was taken aback by the question, which I heard as often on the left as on the right: “Why us?”  “Why not us?” I thought.  Why should we be exempted from the kind of random tragedy that happens to people everywhere all the time?  Then a few things happened in my life and I realized that I too assumed, at least on a personal level, that my life was meant to be calm, secure and stable.  I too assumed that, though I might go through a rocky time, I would inevitably return to equilibrium.  And then I wondered why I, a thinking person of the left who knows better, would make such an assumption.  What else was I, along with my community on the left, taking for granted?

Julie: Is that what Ellen’s character embodies for you?

Lisa: I wrote the character of Ellen as an exploration of this question.  I wrote her as allegory for that aspect of American character that assumes that if we are earnest, thoughtful, well-meaning, diligent and good we will weather adversity and inevitably emerge intact on the other side, that with enough courage and willingness to grow, we can expand indefinitely, and thus avoid true sacrifice or irreparable loss.

Julie: If we were to drop in on Ellen today, a decade later, how do you think she would have changed–or wouldn’t she have?

Lisa: I can’t say how Ellen would have changed in the past decade.  If I were writing about the political situation now I’d write a different play with different characters.  But I will say that, though there are certainly things I would change if I could go back in time with my 20/20 hindsight, I do think Ellen’s argument still holds: that decades of conservative systemic reorganization are far more impactful and consequential than the election of even the most brilliant and dazzling president can possibly be.

Lisa Kron by Joan MarcusLisa Kron’s plays include Fun Home, a musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, written with composer Jeanine Tesori; The Ver**zon Play; Well; 2.5 Minute Ride and 101 Most Humiliating Stories. Her honors include playwriting fellowships from the Lortel and Guggenheim foundations, the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, the Lark Play Development Center, the American Voices New Play Institute and the MacDowell Colony, as well as the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts from CalArts, a Helen Merrill Award and grants from the Creative Capital Foundation and New York Foundation for the Arts. She is a founding member of the OBIE- and Bessie-Award-winning collaborative theater company The Five Lesbian Brothers. She serves on the board of the MacDowell Colony and the Council of the Dramatists Guild of America.

 Haverkate-150x150Julie Haverkate is the literary coordinator at Disney Theatrical Group. Previously, she was the marketing associate at TCG, and she has also 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 and Broadway World and writes the blog Critical Confabulations. She is a proud alumna of Florida State University (M.A. Theatre Studies). Twitter:@CriticalConfab.