Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Six questions for Lee Blessing
We talked with Lee Blessing about his involvement with THE GREAT GAME: AFGHANISTAN, which is a collaborative project of 12 British and American playwrights.
Blessing was Signature Theatre Company's Playwright-in-Residence during the 1992-1993 season. His works include A WALK IN THE WOODS (Broadway and West End, Tony and Pulitzer nominations), THIEF RIVER, COBB, and TWO ROOMS among many others. Here's what he had to say:
Public Theater Blog: How did you get involved in this project?
Lee Blessing: Nick Kent did a revival of my play A WALK IN THE WOODS at Northern Stages in Vermont this last February. That was the first time we'd met. A bit later he asked if I could write a one-act for THE GREAT GAME. One had fallen out, and they were looking for a replacement. I was happy to take it on.
PTG: What was it about this project that made you want to get involved? Why did the situation in Afghanistan need to be told dramatically?
Blessing: I was fascinated by the subject of THE GREAT GAME. I think it's a very important kind of theater, especially for Americans to see. Very few theatrical projects cover this sort of material, and none do it in quite this way. The stunning regularity with which Great Powers wander into Afghanistan with overblown and/or badly miscalculated expectations is brought out clearly by this piece.
PTG: What was the process or writing this like? Were you given a specific time period or did you work out a timeline with the other writers?
Blessing: I had a very specific assignment: the 1980's, when the U.S. was arming the mujahedeen against the Soviets. So my contact was with Nick Kent, the director of my particular play and the head dramaturge for THE GREAT GAME. All three of them gave me excellent notes, and I was able to go through several revisions until we had a script that worked for all of us and felt as though it "fit" in the cycle as a whole.
PTB: Has the success of the show surprised you?
Blessing: The success of the show doesn't surprise me, since there's such a dearth of this sort of thing in our theater. Americans have a powerful curiosity about how we got to where we are in Afghanistan and what larger historical patterns have helped to bring us there.
PTB: Do you think America is ready for more works like this that specficially tackle current events or hot topics?
Blessing: I can't say what America is ready for, but I do think that Americans would be well served to use this sort of forum much more often than we do to examine geopolitical questions. No country projects its influence around the world more energetically than we do, yet I wonder how much we think about the ramifications of building and maintaining an empire supported by the most powerful military in the world.
PTB: What is the most important thing you hope someone who sees THE GREAT GAME takes away?
Blessing: That we have choices. We have the power and responsibility to reexamine our fundamental approach to many international issues. How wise is it to conduct open-ended wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq--conflicts with murky, ever-changing goals, fueled more by politics than anything else?
THE GREAT GAME begins performances Dec. 1 at NYU Skirball Center. For more information, visit www.thegreatgameonstage.org.