Series Producer Anna Becker (AB) asked James Braly (JB) some questions to provide a preview of the content of Braly's piece, and a sense of his unique perspective...then come to the show and share your thoughts with him in the post-performance discussion and reception.
AB: What moved you to write "Life In A Marital Institution?"
JB: I was going through an unhappy time, both personally and professionally, and after careful examination I traced the source of my unhappiness to two things, neither of which -- conveniently -- had anything to do with me: my wife and my job as a corporate speechwriter. Somehow, it seemed to me, I'd landed in my marriage and career by accident.
So after 15 years as a couple, including 12 marriage counselors, three or four psychotherapists and a baby, I decided to separate for the summer from everything that made me miserable, e.g. my wife and my job. Whereupon I discovered I was still miserable.
Writing became a kind of investigative tool to track down the real culprit. (He wasn't happy about it when I found him.)
AB: How has the piece - and you - changed or evolved during the creative process?
JB: To make an autobiographical piece about marriage work, I think you have to portray yourself as a person making choices, not as a victim of circumstances; I'm not a Hutu writing about Tutsis invading my village, in other words, or vice versa, where circumstances were beyond my control. I'm a man who has chosen his wife, so I can't be passive, this is the contract with the audience.
Thus, you draw the line between therapy (where you can see yourself as a victim, as passive, because you're paying someone to listen to you describe how the world had it in for you, which is why therapy should never be seen on a stage) and theater (where you are being paid by your listeners, and so you better make it worth their time).
When you see yourself as a chooser, it makes you see your life differently. It takes a major excuse away; you have no one to blame but yourself. So it makes daily life -- and your stories about it -- even scarier than before; because evidently this really is the bed you made.
AB: what will you be looking forward to in terms of performing the piece for us?
I often perform for audiences that have at least some sense of my performing style and content; I'm at least vaguely familiar to them. To be able to perform for a sophisticated audience that has never seen me or my work - this is a great if terrifying gift (since people can tell what they think right after the show). Also, I'll be trying out a somewhat different version of the show than the one I performed in New York City and in Pleasantville, so I'm eager to see how the new material connects.
AB: What is interesting to you as an artist these days?
Autobiographical storytelling as an art form appears to be gaining in popularity. There seems to be a premium placed, at this cultural moment, on a story being literally true, a premium that exists in inverse proportion to the overwhelming mass of media and entertainment. Meaning, among other things, it's a good time to be telling true stories.
Reality t.v. and so much of what passes as "news" are dark corollaries to this phenomenon. Audiences want something they can believe in, even if it's completely manufactured -- and degrading to everyone. There's this scene in Dante's Inferno that's always stuck with me: Dante is walking through Hell with Virgil his guide, rubbernecking at some tortured sould being tortured in some horrific way for eternity. When Virgil says, in so many words, "Turn away, don't rubberneck. You're here to learn." Reality t.v. and t.v. news, to me, is essentially this scene, rubbernecking, on a massive scale; only there's no Virgil to tell us to look away. On the contrary, an Anti-Virgil is telling us to pay attention.
AB: What isn't interesting to you?
Screen violence; contemporary fiction with hyper-ironic, aloof narrators.
AB: What's next?
I'm planning to open the show off Broadway this spring.