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Monday, October 23, 2006

Talking with Jesse Kellerman

While I try to keep my reading list as diverse as possible, sampling books in many different genres and forms, I must confess an especially close affinity for two particular types of literature: young adult fiction and play scripts.

The latter I attribute to an especially good English teacher in high school who nursed us on Greek dramatists and then fed us more plays from every era in history forward. Even before I became involved in the theater, I found myself in love with scripts. They were almost the perfect medium because they wasted little time with description, allowing my imagination to visualize the characters and actions. And unless you were talking about an epic like the Kentucky Cycle or Lazarus Laughed, they tended to be tightly written and incredibly focused.

So I must confess that I had more than a little delight at the opportunity to interview Jesse Kellerman. Yes, yes, he wrote a novel. It's even a good novel. But he also wrote plays! Last week I blogged about how delightful 3m1w is. Soon, I'll get reviews up of Sunstroke (the aforementioned novel) and his full-length play Beyond Our Control.

The man's a very good playwright. In fact, I very much want to see his work performed locally and have been putting bugs in several people's ears.

He was also a delight to interview. Jesse Kellerman is erudite and witty. Here's a teaser from the interview:

Drama without comedy is melodrama, and comedy without any trace of gravitas is silly. (If forced to choose, of course, I'd rather have silly. At least that's entertaining.)

A instructive story: once, during rehearsal, we decided to see what would happen if we slowed down one of the comedies in 3m1w — the play Whatever, Whenever. Running it at half speed turned some of the funniest moments in the play into crushing tragedies. It was horrible to watch, just horrible. A man loses his job, his marriage, and his will to live — not very chuckleworthy stuff.

Until you speed it up, that is. And then it becomes a riot, because your brain isn't given time to appreciate the depth of the horror — only the surprise it brings with it. One of my professors in college once defined comedy as tragedy sped up to 100 MPH. I tend to agree.

I try to drive at right around 50, where the line blurs a bit. Things Beyond Our Control could be called either one, I think. And I've tried to inject some humor into my novels, as well — although, because they're more realistic in feel, I haven't been able to go whole-hog with my sense of the surreal. I hope to, someday.

I invite you to read the interview and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.


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