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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Marie Kohler Leads Theater Renaissance

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Marie Kohler, one of the most prominent writers in local theater, is the playwright-in-residence at Renaissance Theaterworks. She started with 1992’s A Girl of the Limberlost, which was followed by Counting Days in ’95. Midnight and Moll Flanders became her first huge success as a playwright, and later she created the comic-drama Boswell’s Dreams. This past season, Renaissance staged her most recent work, The Dig, a play about a sister trying to protect her brilliant schizophrenic brother from the outside world.

You’ve been staging a new feature-length piece every half-decade or so. Is this schedule intentional?

Yes and no. I seem to write plays slowly. I take a long time to brew my plays internally and then a long time to get them all out (dozens of scenes— most never used) and shape the plays in the way I like. After about 10 full drafts, the connections really start bubbling up for me. That’s the stage in the process I love best—at that point I can really “see” what I’m trying to say, lift all those things up and lay them back in, in some form that interests me. I also want time to pass between any Renaissance productions of plays I write. I don’t want to exploit that relationship and put the balance of our company’s productions out of whack.

Do you write stories all the time or are you only doing so when the mood strikes?

A part of my brain is usually considering what my writing might be calling for…or what my next project will be. Right now I’m in a “rest” or “grace” period after The Dig for actual writing—but I don’t think I can let that go much longer.

As playwright-in-residence for Renaissance Theaterworks, do you find yourself writing with specific actors in mind?

I do write with actors in mind—I find it helps to make things flow. You can hear certain lines coming out of their mouths and they become another source for inspiration. Sometimes, though, the character needs to adjust if the demands of the play change. For instance, halfway through, I realized the characters of Jamie and his sister in The Dig needed to be younger to coincide with a certain historical UNESCO date. When I’m writing a play for Renaissance, I know I have some voice in the casting, which is a lovely luxury.

Are you working on any scripts?

I’m currently thinking about a piece on growing up in a big, beautiful but somewhat empty house—and how haunting that can be. I haven’t yet decided whether it should be a play or some kind of prose narrative. We’ll see. I’m also considering a collaborative piece about cooking and food. But all this is still stewing, so to speak. I have three very young new grandchildren to spend time with these days, so, as usual, my life is a balancing act. But writing has a fluid and important place in it.

Photo by Amelia Coffaro