An interview with MCC Playwrights’ Coalition member, Cusi Cram—
You’ve worked with MCC in the past – and are a member of our writers’ group. How has that been meaningful?
Cusi - The Playwrights’ Coalition has been a great place for me to develop work. Over the years, I’ve partaken of all the programs it offers and many of my plays have been greatly improved directly because of readings or workshops the Coalition provided. It also is a wonderful place for me to meet other uber talented playwrights. One of the paths that lead me to Labyrinth was meeting Stephen Adly Guirgis through the Coalition. We both really responded to each other’s work.
Can you tell us about Radiance, the show you have going up at Labyrinth right now? What’s it about? Where did the idea come from?
Cusi - I would say that the macro theme of the play is shame. The play looks at shame from a variety of angles and through several of the character’s eyes. I suppose the inciting question for me in writing this play was how do you live with the horrible things you inevitably do in life? And are some things that cannot be recovered from? And why? The play revolves around historical events that took place during World War II, so I am also interested how we as Americans deny or avoid historical shame. Those are the big, sweeping questions but it’s also a kind of subtle love story. A man walks into a bar, meets a lady with a story and it turns out he has a story that trumps all others. I was inspired to write the play by listening to a segment on the radio program, This American Life. It was an episode about very awkward episodes of the popular 50’s show, “This is Your Life”. I couldn’t quite believe what a terrible episode idea this one show was. I am being deliberately cagey as there are some surprises in the play.
What do you find to be the most important part about going into production as a writer? How does it differ from working towards a reading of a new play? What do you look for?
Cusi - Every play is different. Some of them have been through a ton of readings and development, others are less understood and are still a puzzle. I think being open and present in the rehearsal room is really important. I think listening to suggestions is key but also knowing that is what they are, suggestions. You are the one who gets to decide what is right for your play. You are the expert. I tend to do a lot of rewriting before rehearsal begins, I hone in on the play. I have a phrase “getting the play in fighting form”. A reading is so different than a production. Usually, I go into a reading with one or two big questions. The questions are infinite in a production.
What do you find to be lingering challenges of going into production? What excites you about it?
Cusi - I love rehearsal. If I could be in rehearsal all the time, I would be in heaven. I find giving the play to an audience (and critics) hard. I’ve never been good at transitions. After I get used to the idea of opening the whole thing up, I love it when I can move audiences in some way. Laughter. Tears. Rage. Hopefully not to sleeping. With this play in particular, I”m excited to share this little known slice of American history. It’s an interesting prism to look through at larger questions in American history
What’s next for you?
Cusi - I’m working on a commission of a new play that is set in an International school in Rome. I’m also writing a pilot. I’m angling to direct something short on film. I hope to spend some time in Greece in the Spring.
[Click here to check out the interview that Labyrinth Theater Company did with Don’t Go Gentle playwright, Stephen Belber.]
Click here and use code MCC25 for $25 discount tickets to preview performances of Radiance, November 1 through November 15!