Here is Mr. September, Daniel Reitz, and his play TURNABOUT. I chose this play for a number of reasons, but primarily because it is one of the few plays about gay men and NYC gay male culture that doesn't make heroes, martyrs or villains out of the characters. In fact, the characters you are 'supposed' to not like end up being heroes and the characters you think you are supposed to identify with are not perfect specimens of humanity... in other words, Daniel has created a living breathing play of human, relatable characters who inhabit a grey world full of ideas and dogma that are black and white, but only in theory, never in practice. It's brave and yet quite every day in the same thought... where people who tend to be lumped into one large category (gay) are as varied and complex and full of irony and diametrically opposed contradictions-- just like actual, real human beings. Imagine that!
Drama Editor, Kathleen Dennehy
Daniel Reitz Interview
What inspired this play?
I think maybe the costumes Josh, Cheyenne and the other cater waiters wear in the gay Republican fundraiser scene. I stumbled on that outfit by accident one day and that image--the red, the elephant--suddenly suggested a gay Republican fundraiser scene. It made me laugh and I knew I was onto something. It was originally written as a one-act that was produced in the Marathon at Ensemble Studio Theatre--the first scene was Josh, desperate, asking his ex-partner Dennis for money. Then the lights came up and there was Josh with Cheyenne, on break, in those costumes.
Did you discover the character of Josh first then build the play around him?
No. It all began with that first scene in the one-act version, in Starbucks, with a man asking anther man he'd done wrong for money. And originally it was a man asking for money from the woman he'd dumped, who now had a rich Republican partner. I switched the scenario to two men because for it to be two gay men felt so obviously more interesting, more compelling, and made the stakes so much higher.
I'm very curious about your process with this play because you've built a strong conflict around a fascinating but deeply real character, Josh, is just like the everyman that almost all of us know- the guy who cares, but doesn't really step out of his comfort zone to really care and really participate and really advocate-- he's honest but just up to a point. I'm trying to think of another flawed gay everyman in modern drama but can't...care to extrapolate on what you wanted to say with this character?
Josh very much is that decent, politically correct, liberal guy who cares, but only inasmuch as he doesn't have to do much beyond click around on the Internet and send messages and send maybe the occasional ten or twenty dollars, or sign a petition. And he is honest but up to a point--when it involves deeper introspection or accepting accountability he's amazingly versatile at self-delusion and clever obfuscating language to muddy the waters of his history. It's human nature, it's what we all do, but some of us are masters at obfuscation, as Josh is. It's how some people get through life, or even thrive.
The dating-love-sex environment you portray in your play is very dog eat dog and full of casual as well as calculated cruelties... is that accurate in terms of New York City and other high powered playgrounds of the rich and pretty?
I think the calculated cruelties seen in my play regarding relationships and love and sex go beyond New York, beyond gay, beyond the high-powered playgrounds of the rich and pretty. I don't know much about the last. But when it comes to love and lust and need and want, it's pretty much brute human nature kicking in, and the survival of the prettiest.
I know from personal experience how brutal show business can be, were you setting that up as Josh's world in terms of being a metaphor for the dog-eat-dog, hero today, zero tomorrow which microcosms the same harshness of the gay world or is it more of a way to show how Josh just isn't growing up properly because he merely lives from job to job and callback to callback.
Well, of course there's a lot that actors contend with on a daily basis that's ripe for comedy as much as pathos. We're all of us faced with the scary future, and we're all made to feel (unless we're fabulously successful) that the persistent pursuit of one's art is whimsical, selfish, childish. I was focusing in particular on this one man, who happens to be an actor, and his own self-serving tendencies, and how he's outsmarted himself in a sense, and now what does he do? His motivation for getting a "real" job is fundamentally a selfish one, rather than some sober realization. Even in that pursuit, he's an actor pursuing a part--that of the "regular" guy.
As a native New Yorker I know just how much a human is willing to endure to hold onto a rent controlled or rent stabilized apartment... is that also a metaphor for keeping the wolves at bay- by which I mean, what we will do to hold onto what little we have- which conversely also works to make our lives smaller than they should be...
Survival, I think, is very much a theme of the play. And you're absolutely right that the will to survive makes us smaller, makes our motives and our behavior smaller.
When Josh finally mans up and tries to get a 'real job', is that meant to be his growing up moment where he tries to finally take responsibility for his life? Or is it, in your mind, him giving up his dreams?
Josh, for whatever you think of him (or at least his behavior) is, admirably, a dreamer. He keeps dreaming. He dreams of this wonderful life with Cheyenne, the beautiful object of his desire. Getting a job is not his way of taking responsibility, at least that's not his motivation. His motivation is to buy some kind of new life with Cheyenne. So it's neither giving up on his dreams or getting real. It's more of Josh's machinations.
I adore the character of Mohammad. Hilarious. Brilliant, because when we first meet him we think we know him, but he evolves so utterly and completely into a complex and fascinating human being by the end... As well as Cheyenne. I know them both so well, and have catered with both!! But I'm very curious about your final scene...It's almost cinematic in how there's no dialogue- and I wonder if it's Josh's dream or if it is real. You don't have to tell me, but it's a very haunting little coda.
I know it's strange and cinematic and dreamlike and maybe (hopefully not) a little unsatisfying to some who require a more meat-and-potatoes ending, and maybe it's the screenwriter in me taking over, but Josh is a dreamer, and he keeps dreaming his life, and that's the ending I think he would see: bittersweet for him, happy for them.
Did you grow up wanting to write or is it something you came to later in life? What brought you to writing?
I always wrote, since I was a kid. Writing came to me, I'd have to say.
Who are writers that inspire you?
Joyce, Beckett and Pinter, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Pauline Kael, Robert Hughes, Christopher Hitchens, Joan Didion, Martin Amis, Cynthia Ozick, Elizabeth Hardwick, Muriel Spark, Salman Rushdie, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan...to name just a few. Too many writers to list.
Did you study writing?
No. I was considering it when I started writing plays but I was already getting little productions so I bagged the idea. I think you learn some things a little faster when you study writing but ultimately you learn by trial and error, by just writing.