Issue X, Volume IV : June 2013
When did you write Bob Funk?
What inspired this play?
I was working at a law firm at the time (word processing) and I went to lunch at some fast food dive on Fifth Avenue near 42nd Street. I was eating alone, watching people. And I saw two men in cheap suits sitting with sandwiches in front of them. Neither was eating, they both were staring at their sandwiches, looking very down. For some reason, I thought they were brothers, so I imagined what they were talking about that would bum them out and… I figured being fired by your Mom was pretty bad news so…
Let's face it, you and I have known each other a long time, and I already know the answer to this, in some small part, but how much of the play is autobiographical, or even just "inspired by true events"?
Well, my mother is a school teacher and my dad a mechanical engineer. Both alive, and I get along with them both fantastically. You’ve met them. They’re sweet, Indiana parents. But I was a drinker, had a bad first marriage, and I was arrogant and lost. And that part is the emotional truth of the piece. The actual events are mostly made up. Bob’s “patter” and the job was inspired by a mattress salesman who I met with my friend (writer) Andy Yerkes. After we left the guy, who talked and talked big, I said to Andy, “That guy is an actual loser, like, someone who as really lost.” Which I later put in the play. The story of Bob’s father dying, additionally, is true. My father’s father – Chester Carlisle – died in exactly that way, and my dad didn’t know the details until he was almost sixty. I was there when he heard about it. It was a very emotional situation, especially for a couple of Midwestern men, and that hit me.
Redemption seems to be part of the play's Organizing Principle- and for almost all of the characters- a facing down of how we lie to ourselves to get through the day. Is this an accurate interpretation? Would you care to elaborate on what human condition motivated you to create these characters?
I think that’s a good interpretation. I’m not big on what something “means” – I feel like that’s more the role of the audience or reader. At least, I don’t think about what a piece ultimately means when I’m writing it. Maybe some in rewriting, which is usually when I start to understand what it is I’m writing “about”. For me, I think the thing about the human condition that is interesting is our on-going desire to be included. To feel like we’re on the inside looking out, not the other way around. And I think Bob has found himself very much on the outside, and he’s trying to find his way back in. I’m also drawn to people who are in between the stages of what they consider their “real lives”, but most of the time, our lives are actually made up of in-between moments.
Most of the jobs I had before I started making money as a writer scraped at my soul. I wish I could be happy doing 9 to 5, I do. But… it’s not my nature. As for not wanting to lose a job… I had one job like that, which I really clung to, as a writer. I made good money, and I lived in fear of losing the job, and in the end, it was miserable. So I try to at least pretend I’m all Buddhist about things and not “cling” to anything.
When you re-wrote this play as a screenplay, what was the most challenging part of the transition for you from dramatic to cinematic story-telling?
Well, the play (as you can see) only has four characters. So I had to write “outward”. I had to create three-dimensional versions of people only seen through Bob’s lens in the play. Also, the play (like most plays) is very talky-talk. So I had to shift to action. Show, not tell, and so forth. My wife, Sonya Rokes, was a big help in that she’s a great editor and was very gentle about pointing out places where action should replace words. Beyond that… it’s kind of a blur.
The film came together very quickly, so I had a few weeks to cut about 30 pages and add characters and generally make it a film story.
What made you not want to have Dr. Day seen? And then what inspired you to have Bob speak directly to the audience as if he were speaking to his therapist?
I guess I was hoping to make THEM the therapist. I wrote an early version with a character on stage, but it wasn’t as dramatically interesting. I wrote a version of the screenplay where you didn’t see her, and it seemed silly, staged. I hoped people would see that they were the confidant in the exchange. And perhaps project the face of their own shrink into the mix.
What made you want to write plays?
Well, I was studying in undergraduate school to be an actor and it wasn’t enough for my enormous ego. I wanted to create rather than interpret. I took a class with a visiting artist named Lynn Siefert, who’s a great writer, and she encouraged me to keep at it. I also had a great couple of classes with playwright Don Nigro, who was very encouraging. So I kept at it, and ended up at NYU’s Dramatic Writing Program and here we are.
Who are playwrights you find influential?
I guess I was influenced by the usual writers of my age cohort – Mamet, Landford Wilson, Sam Shepard, Wendy Wasserstein. But I think I was more influenced by film writers, oddly enough, like the Coen Brothers and Woody Allen. Their darkly comic and incisive view of people really resonated with me. And even more than plays or films, I am a reader of novels. I find Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem very inspiring and influential on me today.
If you weren't a writer, what would you love to do?
Oy. Um. Oy. History, maybe, something with history, but that would just be writing again, ultimately. I used to want to be a psychologist, which is not dissimilar to writing, but really I just wanted to be Bob Newhart. Boy, that’s tough. Because I can’t imagine myself in any other life, really. I guess the answer would be “living on a trust fund.”
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All Connotation Press plays are presented online to the reading public. All performance rights, including professional, amateur, television and the rights of translation into foreign languages are strictly reserved. If you are interested in seeking performance rights to a specific work contact the Drama Editor, Kathleen Dennehy.
Drama Editor Kathleen Dennehy is a NYU Tisch School of the Arts graduate who studied with John Guare, David Mamet, and Anne Bogart. She is an essayist/performer: Sit N' Spin, Book Soup, Hatch, Tongue and Groove and her essays have been published in Fresh Yarn, Note to Self and Weston Magazine. Kathleen is the Creative Director of Naked Angels' Tuesdays@9 LA - a cold reading workshop for writers and she created the creative writing program at Hillsides, a school for foster and at-risk children. Under contract to re-write a screenplay for Rachel Davidson, at Laura Ziskin, Sony Studios, Kathleen is a writer/editor/consultant and the curator of MNWG- a long running writers group in Los Angeles.