PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Nilo Cruz

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Nilo Cruz
 
In 2003, playwright Nilo Cruz was the stealth winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Anna in the Tropics.

Playwright Nilo Cruz
Playwright Nilo Cruz

He triumphed over more likely contenders with Anna in the Tropics, an almost unknown piece of lyric realism that had been produced at the tiny New Theatre in Coral Gables—miles away, geographically and psychically, from the nation's theatre mecca, New York City. Now—after seeing Anna bow at New Jersey's McCarter Theatre with a starry cast led by Jimmy Smits, and then transfer intact to Broadway's Royale Theatre—Cruz is back at the New Theatre, with his latest, Beauty of the Father. Despite his new found notoriety, Cruz continues to concentrate on writing, even if interviews (like this one) sometimes intrude, and he is occasionally forced to disconnect his phone.

Playbill On-Line: Tell me about your new play, Beauty of the Father.
Nilo Cruz: It takes place in the south of Spain. I was doing research on the life of Garcia Lorca. I was writing another play that had to do with his death there; he was killed in 1938 in the Spanish Civil War. Somehow, Lorca appeared in this other new play of mine. His ghost—he didn't appear to me physically—but his ghost appeared in my play. [Laughs.] He visited the world of my play. The play has to do with a triangle, a father and a daughter being in love with the same man. It's sort of my version of "The Graduate." [Laughs.]

PBOL: How is the production at the New Theatre going?
NC: It's going well. I love working with this group of actors. It's so delightful because I'm working with my first drama professor. She's acting in my play. Can you believe it?

PBOL: Can you describe how your life has changed since you won the Pulitzer Prize for Anna in the Tropics?
PBOL: My life before was very much about writing. Every day I woke up and sat down and did some writing that had to do with my plays. That's not the case anymore. I had to do rewrites of Beauty of the Father a month ago, and I had to disconnect the phone and really close myself up in my house. I was being so distracted by phone calls and interviews and that sort of thing. I find my life is definitely more public than it used to be. Of course, the work is getting more interest. There's interest from Hollywood in turning Anna into a film. There's a couple companies that are interested; there's no deal yet.

PBOL: Much of the distraction probably had to do with the Broadway production.
NC: Yeah, yeah. Interviews, and you have to go to this party and you have to do this and that. I don't mind doing all that. But, it's so much harder to do a play on Broadway, because it's not just doing a play on Broadway, but maintaining a play on Broadway, and filling those seats and spreading the word that this play is being done. I find it very hard and there's a lot of tension that comes with it. PBOL: Did you ever feel your artistic vision was challenged with the Broadway transfer?
NC: Not at all. I felt from the beginning, when I started to do a lot of table work with [director] Emily Mann, and we started to discuss the play—that never really changed between the McCarter and Broadway. We actually enhanced the production a little bit for Broadway. [The move] really didn't change the integrity of the play and my vision of it.

PBOL: What do you personally think of awards? Do you have faith in them, or are they just a thing that goes with the artistic territory in the United States?
NC: The only thing I don't like about them is it puts you in competition with other writers and other works of art. Also, it feels like Broadway is very competitive, when it comes to the Tony Awards. For instance, I haven't read any of my reviews. Nor have I read any reviews of the other plays that might be competing with my play for the Tonys. I don't want to know. I wish them the best, and I wish my play the best. These are things that come with the territory, so I don't think about it, nor do I want to be in that frame of mind. I think that's a healthy attitude. I think that's what sports is about, but I don't think that's what art is about.

PBOL: What is your approach to language? Obviously, the language of your plays is not wholly naturalistic. What do you hope to achieve in your dialogue?
NC: I'm not interested in the so-called quotidian language that one hears at the grocery store. I'm interested in language that is sensorial and rhythmic, but also I'm interested in finding the lyricism behind my characters. I find that poetry for the stage functions not only as dialogue, but it functions in terms of situations, too. I look for the kind of language that captures the Spanish sensibility and the cadence of the way that people speak. It is lyrical and a little more heightened.

PBOL: Do you think Latino people speak with more poetry and lyricism?
NC: I think that, being around the culture, the songs and literature coming out of Latin America, there's an inherent lyricism behind the way people speak. I've heard my grandmother and my sister speak very poetically at times. But, more than anything, I'm always aware that I'm dealing with an art form, and theatre is art, and art should be heightened, and one should rise above the norm. Through the poetic, I find the spiritual.

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