PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Donald Margulies

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Donald Margulies A few years back, at a time when he was little known as a playwright and contemplating giving up the trade, Donald Margulies' Sight Unseen became the surprise hit of the season, selling out at Manhattan Theatre Club and transferring to a commercial run. Since then, there's rarely been a New York season without a Margulies play in it, from The Model Apartment at Primary Stages and The Loman Family Picnic at MTC, to What's Wrong with This Picture? on Broadway and Collected Stories, first at MTC with Maria Tucci, then at the Lucille Lortel with Uta Hagen. A writer of thoughtful, unflashy, and increasingly realistic plays, Margulies has never been a darling of the theatrical intelligentsia (though he always gets his share of admiring reviews). But his perseverance has paid off this year, as what is perhaps his simplest play, Dinner with Friends, has grown into his biggest hit and netted him a Pulitzer Prize. Margulies -- currently at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre with his new play, God of Vengeance -- spoke with Playbill On-Line shortly after hearing of the honor.

A few years back, at a time when he was little known as a playwright and contemplating giving up the trade, Donald Margulies' Sight Unseen became the surprise hit of the season, selling out at Manhattan Theatre Club and transferring to a commercial run. Since then, there's rarely been a New York season without a Margulies play in it, from The Model Apartment at Primary Stages and The Loman Family Picnic at MTC, to What's Wrong with This Picture? on Broadway and Collected Stories, first at MTC with Maria Tucci, then at the Lucille Lortel with Uta Hagen. A writer of thoughtful, unflashy, and increasingly realistic plays, Margulies has never been a darling of the theatrical intelligentsia (though he always gets his share of admiring reviews). But his perseverance has paid off this year, as what is perhaps his simplest play, Dinner with Friends, has grown into his biggest hit and netted him a Pulitzer Prize. Margulies -- currently at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre with his new play, God of Vengeance -- spoke with Playbill On-Line shortly after hearing of the honor.

Playbill On-Line: You've been nominated twice before for the Pulitzer. Did it surprise you that Dinner with Friends should be the play to win?
Donald Margulies: Surprise me? Well, I had hoped that it would be recognized. These things are hard to predict. In the long run, I think this acknowledges, at this point, my body of work as opposed to this specific play.

PBOL: What was the inspiration behind Dinner with Friends?
DM: As with all my work, the plays tend to reflect observations I'm having at that time in my life. My wife and I have been together for a long time now -- 21 years -- nearly half our lives. All around us, relationships are changing, marriages are breaking up. It's those notions of impermanence, the yearning for something else that I'm tapping into.

PBOL: Why did Dinner with Friends end up being a straight commercial venture instead of reaching New York through a nonprofit house, like much of your other work?
DM: That was my decision. I had the sense that this play had a large commercial life. I thought it was worth the risk of going through with it commercially. And I was correct. I thought that if it had gotten done at a nonprofit theatre, and received less than the great notices that it did, it wouldn't have gotten the response it has, which has been great. You have to build an audience and that can't be achieved in a nine-week run.

PBOL: How are plans for the Chicago production going?
DM: I'm not at all tuned into that. My producers are talking about it. I know it's happening, but I don't know much else. There are also productions planned for the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Berkeley Rep, and the Old Globe. PBOL: Any London plans?
DM: That's being discussed.

PBOL: You're adapting Tom Wolfe's novel "A Man in Full." How is that project going?
DM: Yes, I'm adapting it for television for a four-hour mini-series. If all goes well, it will happen next season. I'm into the second half now.

PBOL: A lot of theatregoers feel a personal connection to Dinner with Friends. Do you have a special feeling about the play, above all your others?
DM: It's so hard to say. It's like saying which of the children do I like the most. I have to love my plays. I love God of Vengeance now. I need to love what I do.

--By Robert Simonson