Quincy Long interview, with Kathleen Dennehy
What inspired THE HUNTSMEN? Do you fashion your plays completely from imagination or are you inspired by actual events?
I was commissioned by a theatre in California to write a play that takes place in a den. The Huntsmen is the result. It's as simple as that, and more complicated too, but that was the impetus for the play. It's pretty much all imagined. I usually don't fashion my plays completely from scratch in this way. I more likely begin with a world I have some familiarity with as a place to start -- and to find a voice -- but end up using all the detail as a screen behind which I'm free to make up a story. For example, I was in the Marines, and The Virgin Molly came out of a visit I made to Parris Island some twenty years after I had been there as a recruit. I used my experiences at Parris Island to inform and detail the play and to create a plausible surface on which to which to project my own thoughts and anxieties, but the play was not autobiographical in the way we understand the term. And men don't have babies, of course, but I like absurd premises that are rendered so as to seem almost believable.
Devon appears to be tortured by his conscience in the first scene, but as the play progresses, his conscience disintegrates. Is your play an exploration on conscience and morality and what happens when we lose that?
It's not intended as such. I don't explore themes. I'm more an intuitive writer, feeling my way along, seeing what happens next. Once Devon kills his father, he just starts to spin out.
What's great about the drama and fans the flames of dramatic tension is that you do not judge your characters- you just present them, flaws and all. Devon's parents are less than ideal parents- in very different ways. Do you feel Devon's character and his trajectory are the result of the actions of his parents or were you more interested in creating a character who becomes less human, less connected to humanity as the play goes on?
I didn't want to see Devon as a product of specific parental abuse or neglect though elements of that are present. The play may be a picture of human or American pathology, but I don't think either of Devon's parents is responsible or beyond the pale psychologically -- just normally selfish, self-involved people mostly concerned with their own lives.
I'd like to ask about your use of songs- they become increasingly a path for escape as well as a safe place where the characters lose and reveal themselves in ways they can't seem to do when simply speaking-- which now that I think of it, is how 'traditional' musicals use songs... but rarely are songs a part of savage tragic plays. Why did you create songs for this play?
I love songs in plays. I believe they lift the whole enterprise into something bigger, richer, fuller. Doo wop in this case seemed the perfect theatrical compliment for the goings-on in the play. Opposites set next to each other -- innocence jammed right up against evil in this case -- always gets me going. I've used songs in plays often before -- you'll recall the Shaker songs in Shaker Heights. I happened to hear a doo wop concert at a college while I was working on The Huntsmen and... boom. Of course, songs in plays work differently from songs in musicals which generally need to serve the plot. I tend to use them more as grace notes, though they can't help but reveal character too.
How do you envision the songs being performed in production- full out musical fantasy numbers with dancing or more spare and Brechtian?
I'm generally for simplicity and stillness, but these are doo wop songs. In our production at Portland Playhouse we were lucky to have a music director who had a lot of cruise ship experience as well as really good taste. He helped us with moves and blocking that were simple, entertaining, and sometimes even revelatory.
What drew you to playwriting- did you want to be a writer from an early age or did you fall into writing as a result of some other art form?
I was a big reader from an early age, but didn't write. Theater found me at St. Mary of the Springs College in Ohio. A nun played a recording of T. S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party and that was it. I started acting in plays at the next college I went to -- Hiram College, also in Ohio -- and eventually made my way to New York. In between I helped found an equity dinner theater in Williamsport, PA, where we performed the classics. The theater failed, but I earned my equity card, then did a two-year stint as a newspaper reporter for an afternoon daily newspaper followed by another two-year stint as a technical director building sets. It wasn't until after I'd worked as an actor in New York for several years that I started writing performance monologues and plays, eventually applying to and being accepted at the Yale School of Drama.
You mentioned that THE HUNTSMAN started as a commission to write something set in a den... that single scene then unspools into something even David Lynch would be hard-pressed to imagine. Do you fully write from an intuitive place- go where the characters lead you... or do you go in with an outline of sorts?
It all depends. I didn't make use of outlines in that play, but do use them -- or treatments -- for others. One of the first jobs I had out of graduate school was writing treatments for screenplays that the company would then attempt to pitch to Hollywood studios. I've found that writing a treatment can be a useful tool at some point in the process of writing a play -- sometimes in the beginning, sometimes at the middle or even after I've written a draft -- I'll sit down and tell myself the story of the play in one-to-three pages. It saves a lot of time following stairways to nowhere, and I'm always free to deviate from the treatment if and when. Then again, sometimes I just head off into the bushes with some characters to see what happens.
Do you write in other disciplines than plays? Books, screenplays, etc.?
Not so much. I've done a couple of spec scripts and wrote the screenplay for The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite, a play of mine that was optioned by Icon, Mel Gibson's Company. I think there's good writing on some of the new cable shows -- I'd be interested in writing for them.
Who are writers who inspire you?
The aforementioned T. S. Eliot, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, Wally Shawn and Maria Irene Fornes.
Tell me about your education?
I went to a number of colleges, eventually graduating from Hiram College with a BA in Theater and English. Later I went on to earn an MFA in Playwriting from the Yale School of Drama. I was a very indifferent student in high school and college except for those courses that interested me, and my academic record includes a lot of dropping out, flunking out and flaming out. But by the time I got to the Drama School I'd grown up a bit and did quite well.