Playwright Chuck Blasius, whose two-actor 2002 play, We Were There, movingly charted the relationship of two gay men over a 30-year period — from the flashpoint of Stonewall to the grief and anger of AIDS to the outrage and numbness of Matthew Shepard’s murder — returns to the Off-Off-Broadway scene Jan. 10-Feb. 1 with the world premiere of I Could Say More, a play about friends, family and lovers uneasily vacationing together at the seashore.
Whereas the earlier play was set in a claustrophobic Greenwich Village apartment, the new ensemble drama takes place at a Long Island beach house, where sea and sky suggest a sense of freedom. The play boasts a cast of nine. Blasius appears in and directs the production at the Hudson Guild Theatre on West 26th Street. Official opening is Jan. 13.
I threw a couple questions at the playwright and he obliged, addressing the topics of “gay plays,” ensemble aesthetic, Lanford Wilson and the writing process.
I Could Say More is produced by Other Side Productions, the not-for-profit Off-Off-Broadway company known for Grant James Varjas’ Accidentally, Like a Martyr; Peter Mercurio’s Two Spoons and Andrew Reaches the Other Side; and the NYMF staging of the musical Shine! by Roger Anderson, Lee Goldmsith and Richard Seff, among other productions.
In addition to Blasius, the cast includes Frank Delessio (HB Studio’s The Rimers of Eldritch), Brett Douglas (New York City’s My Big Gay Italian Wedding), Robert Gomes (Broadway’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Blasius’ We Were There), Kate Hodge (Cleveland Play House’s Good People and Dinner With Friends), Keith McDermott (original Broadway cast of Equus), Brandon Smalls (FringeNYC’s Antony and Cleopatra: Infinite Lives), Grant James Varjas (33 Variations in Los Angeles and his own Accidentally, Like a Martyr Off-Off-Broadway) and Monique Vukovic (God’s Ear and Peter & Vandy in New York, Hartford Stage’s Abundance).
I Could Say More is billed as “the tale of a modern family.” In it, “Carl [played by Blasius] is romantically and sexually obsessed with his brother-in-law. He’s also married to Drew [played by Douglas] and together they have an adopted son, Jason [played by Smalls]. During a would-be relaxing two-week vacation at a rented beach house where Carl is meant to be writing, he flies in the face of reason and invites company — and trouble: The object of his affection (his husband’s brother, played by Varjas), who brings along his current boy-toy, Dyson [played by Delessio], as well as two straight couples [Hodge & Gomes, McDermott & Vukovic] who arrive with their own metaphorical baggage. Liquor flows, emotions run high and rivalries old and new surface, triggering everyone — including the kid — to rethink their lives, loves and commitments.”
The stage manager is Katy Moore. The creative team includes scenic designer Clifton Chadick, costume designer Esther Colt Coats, lighting designer Brian Tovar and sound designer Roger Anderson.
Blasius fielded questions in the busy days leading up to the first preview.
I can’t help but think of the ensemble plays of Lanford Wilson when I read about the premise of I Could Say More — a play with multiple stories, multiple conflicts, one setting. Fifth of July, The Hot L Baltimore and others come to mind. Does his work — and/or the ensemble ethos — inspire you?
Chuck Blasius: The original production of Hot L Baltimore was one of the first plays I saw Off-Broadway and didn’t quite realize what an impact it had on me ’til much later. I then started college and became familiar with and enamored of Circle Repertory Company. That was the aesthetic I aspired to — a company of actors who could essentially finish each other sentences — where plays were written specifically for them, by writers who played up their strengths and stretched them on their weaknesses. Writers who knew which combinations of actors would be the most dynamic and explosive.
Fifth of July was a huge influence, but I think Lanford Wilson’s A Tale Told was even more so. It’s the third play of the trilogy and is the first draft of what became Talley and Son. But I think he re-wrote all the life out of it. A Tale Told was a dreamy, surrealistic play with all these wild characters bumping against each other. With Talley and Son he made it much more of a Lillian Hellman-esque well-made play.
Did you know you would put nine people in a house when you began writing the play, or did the story (and number of characters) grow as you wrote it?
Chuck Blasius: Well, I rent this beach house for two weeks each summer with the hope that I’ll write something. Two summers ago, I intended to write another play entirely, but couldn’t get to work because I had so many guests. So I thought of a play about a host being driven crazy by his guests. In my case, they all came out individually, but I thought, “What if they were all there together?,” and how certain personalities, even if they’ve never met before, would push buttons in others.
Do you map a play out, or do you write on instinct and let the characters take you on their journeys? That is, were there specific “events” that you knew would punctuate the play? Or is it different with each play?
Chuck Blasius: It’s very different with each play, depending on where the initial impulse comes from. I generally know where I’m starting and where I want to end up. And before I actually put pen to paper (yes, I’m old school) I usually create a couple of signposts along the way. But I do love to set up a situation between two opposing personalities and just see where it goes.
Do you think about theme as you are writing, or does theme emerge? Was there a specific theme or mood?
Chuck Blasius: Possibly to my detriment, I’ve never thought about “theme” in my life. Once it’s done, I can look at the whole picture and see (and hope) that there are threads that connect the whole thing together, but to think about that kind of stuff from the get-go would completely stall me.
Do you call the play a comedy? A drama?
Chuck Blasius: Well, I hope it’s a comedy. Not to sound pretentious, but I consider it a comedy in the way that The Seagull is a comedy. The fact that these people, with the best of intentions, keep fucking themselves up is funny to me. I don’t really write “jokes,” but the play is full of a bunch of gay Manhattanites and they’re always trying to entertain each other.
The play is set at a Long Island beach house, and you have rented a Long Island beach house for several years. Did you draw on people you know for the play?
Chuck Blasius: Well, I would think it’s impossible to create a character out of whole cloth — every character is a mosaic of people I know, myself included. And because I was writing for a specific group of actors I sometimes included parts of their personalities in their characters.
You’re gay and you have a gay brother — and there are gay brothers in the play. Did you draw on that shared identity to activate the play?
Chuck Blasius: Oh, please. Of course. Although I don’t think the brother relationship has that much to do with their shared gayness. It’s more about the sibling rivalry that happens in any family. There’s an element of “who’s the better gay man” that I try to explore.
There are gay and straight relationships in the play, including longtime partners, two gay brothers, a pair of lovers. In the era of gained civil rights for gay people, do you think the term “gay play” — which used to be assigned to The Boys in the Band, Torch Song Trilogy, Love, Valour, Compassion and other works — is usable or relevant in the world today? Is it a term you use?
Chuck Blasius: As a younger writer, I always thought of my plays as gay plays. But things are much grayer now (including me). I guess I think a “gay play” is a play where the main issue of the play is the characters’ gayness: coming out, AIDS, sex, whatever. But this play is a play with a bunch of characters, some of whom are gay. Of course, that fact impacts the way they live their lives, but I don’t think it drives the play. I’ve heard the term “post-gay.” Maybe that’s what it is. All my gay characters have dealt with their gay “issues” already — now they’ve got a new pile of shit on their plates.
Blasius is a New York City-based director, actor and playwright. He is also the associate artistic director of Other Side Productions. His directing credits include Peter Mercurio’s Andrew Reaches The Other Side, Red & Tan Line and Two Spoons; Eric Bernat and Robin Carrigan’s Jesus And Mandy; John Alban Coughlan’s Of Lives And Leaves. As a playwright, his plays include Lonely Too Long, We Were There, Bette and Kate Join The Line (with Robert Kahan). His acting credits include Grant James Varjas’ Accidentally, Like A Martyr; Ken Nintzel’s productions of Pansy Acts, Piano Bar, Sonata Da Camera Obscura, Lapse and ‘Twas The Night. Blasius is a member of the Dramatists Guild and a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Hudson Guild Theatre is at 441 W. 26 St. between Ninth and Tenth Avenue in Manhattan. Performances of I Could Say More play Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM. There is no performance Monday, Jan. 20.