Wendy MacLeod, the busy playwright whose Find and Sign had its world premiere by Pioneer Theatre Company in 2012, is in residence in Salt Lake City the week of March 2 for the developmental reading of her new play Slow Food, the second of three titles in PTC’s 2015 Play-By-Play New Play Reading Series. MacLeod shared some thoughts about the new play.
Here’s how PTC bills Slow Food: “A vacationing couple celebrates their anniversary at a Greek restaurant in Palm Springs, but will the marriage survive an intrusive waiter who insinuates his way into their meal and their lives?”
“It was inspired by a nightmare waiter we encountered on the first night of a family vacation in Palm Springs,” MacLeod told me. “We were trapped there both by circumstance — it was the only restaurant open on the Sunday night of our arrival — and by the fact that my sister-in-law had recommended the restaurant so nobody wanted to insult her choice by declaring the meal a failure.”
When first cooking up the idea, did she see a character, a place, a conflict?
MacLeod explained, “In this case, the situation involved a simple want — we needed food — and that goal offers a dramatic engine. And my playwright’s brain was tickled by wondering: how many things could the couple do to try to get the food? And how long could the waiter keep them there without bringing it?”
Read more of my chat with Wendy MacLeod below.
Julie Kramer (who directed Jessica Provenz’s True Art in 2014’s Play-By-Play Series) directs Slow Food, featuring Alexandra Harbold, Jim Bennett and Brian Normoyle.
Script-in-hand public presentations of the play will be 2 PM March 6 and 2 & 8 PM March 7 in the Babcock Theatre on PTC’s lower level on the campus of the University of Utah. Audience talkback follows the matinee.
Her other plays include Sin (The Goodman, Second Stage), Schoolgirl Figure (The Goodman Theatre), The Water Children and Juvenilia (Playwrights Horizons), and Things Being What They Are (Seattle Repertory Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre). Her play This Flight Tonight was included in Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, which premiered in Los Angeles, and was seen across the country and in New York at the Minetta Lane Theatre.
MacLeod was the first playwright chosen for The Writers’ Room residency at Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia, where she wrote Women in Jeopardy!, which is currently premiering (through March 22) at Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY. Sean Daniels directs that production. MacLeod is a native of Rochester.
A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, MacLeod is the James E. Michael Playwright-in-Residence at Kenyon College and the artistic director of the Kenyon Playwrights Conference. Visit her official website.
The second annual Play-By-Play reading series began with Josh Tobiessen’s Speculator Spirits Feb. 20-21 and contines with Rob Zellers’ Mr. Wheeler’s March 27-28 (in Dumke Auditorium at The Utah Museum of Fine Arts on campus).
Last season’s Play-By-Play title, Alabama Story, read in April 2014, went on to get a full world-premiere mainstage production at Pioneer in January 2015. It earned rave reviews and became the best-selling new play in the company’s history.
For tickets and information about Pioneer Theatre Company’s 2015 Play-By-Play New Play Reading Series, visit pioneertheatre.org.
Here’s more about Slow Food from playwright Wendy MacLeod:
When you write, how aware are you of “theme,” or do you let that emerge? That is, do you ever lead with an idea rather than, say, character or plot?
Wendy MacLeod: I think in story. It was actually a friend of mine who came to an early reading of Slow Food and told me what the play was really about: “It’s about marriage, of course. Two people trapped together, without always getting what they need.”
The play is called Slow Food and is set in a Greek restaurant. How much will literal, practical food be part of the experience when it finally becomes a fully produced play?
Wendy MacLeod: The experience is largely about the absence of food, but at the climax of the play, the food comes and is declared to be “the nectar of the gods!” And the husband, in ecstasy, says, “Spices!” So it would be great if the theatre were filled with wonderful smells. I’ve noticed that we change after we’re fed — we become gracious and grateful and in love with each other again. We’re not that different from young children. When we’re cranky, we’re either tired or hungry or both.
The play is set in a Greek restaurant. Greek food and Greek culture conjures ancient flavors and passions — to say nothing of links the Western theatre history. Was any of that on your mind when cooking up the play?
Wendy MacLeod: Yes, and I had a little fun with that, with inventing vaguely mythic microbrews like “Fatted Calf” (maybe there really is one?!). There is one stage direction that declares “an existential beat.” There is a sense of being in a slightly absurd, heightened reality where time may have stopped.
Are you a foodie? Do you cook or search for great restaurants?
Wendy MacLeod: I am and I do search for great restaurants! (Last night a director friend and I had a lovely meal at Pago in Salt Lake City). But my husband is the real cook, so I’ve learned so much by eating his food, but I’m as much of a know-it-all as if I were the chef.
Find and Sign was produced at Pioneer in 2012. Are you able to look at Slow Food and Find and Sign and sees links to them? Are they somehow sister plays?
Wendy MacLeod: [Pioneer artistic director] Karen Azenberg finds the two plays very different, which surprised me. But after thinking about it, what’s shifted in between the two plays is that I’ve given over to the comedy, which is my strength. I’m no longer interested in proving that I’m deep.
Are there specific things you are looking to address in the writing of Slow Food during the Play-By-Play process? Are you planning to rewrite this week, or is it a “listening” time?
Wendy MacLeod: We had our first day of rehearsals, and I’ve already started making smaller changes and cuts: Wouldn’t it be funnier if he said this? We don’t need that much explanation there. But what I’m really listening for is the shape of the piece — I want to make sure that the play isn’t the same joke over and over, that the married couple grows over the course of the evening, and that even that awful waiter arrives somewhere new. The play works as a series of different musical movements so I’m asking for very specific sounds from the actors.
Your new play Women in Jeopardy! is currently getting a world premiere by Geva Theatre Center in Rochester. Can you share what it’s about?
Wendy MacLeod: Women in Jeopardy! is an effervescent comedy about two middle-aged women who are convinced their friend’s new dentist boyfriend is a serial killer (his hygienist is missing) and they set out to save her. It’s been received there with riotous laughter and nightly standing ovations. Audiences are thrilled to have middle-aged women like themselves be the very funny protagonists. It’s a play that should be done at every regional theatre in the country!
I like the way you think! Can you share what you’re working on next?
Wendy MacLeod: I’m headed to Mexico for a week and resting my brain for a week. Then we’ll see.
PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg created Play-By-Play, the first formal new play reading series in PTC’s history, in 2014. The Play-By-Play process has guest directors working with resident and national actors and the guest playwright in 29 hours of rehearsal and presentation over a six-day period.
“Nothing is more important to the long-term vitality of American theatre as an art form than the nurturing of new voices and new work,” Azenberg said in a previous statement. “PTC is committed to making it easy for people who love theatre to take that leap of faith to see new work by making these new play readings very affordable. By doing them as readings, with no sets or costumes, we invite our audience to take a risk with us at a very modest cost.”
The 2015 Play-By-Play sponsors include Sandi Behnken, Lee and Audrey Hollaar, Mike and Jan Pazzi, The University of Utah Department of Theatre and The Utah Museum of Fine Arts.