PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With David Auburn, on Lost Lake, at the Annual Playwrights Conference

By Sophia Saifi
02 Aug 2013

Auburn: One always has this experience when the garrulous person at the end of the bar starts telling you things and pretty soon they are exposing great unhappiness and tragedy in their lives, and you don't know that person and it is hard to know how to react and respond to that. Sometimes you are that person. That is interesting. Just the idea of bringing two strangers together and testing what their obligations are to one another, what their responsibilities might be to one another, what their antipathies might be, seemed potent. I also liked the setting. I liked the idea of doing a very small intimate play in this dilapidated rustic setting and having all of the drama come from these two characters rubbing against each other.

Question: Was one of the characters always intended to be African-American or was that something that came later?

Auburn: It came out of thinking about both of them. Let's have two people who are as unlike each other as possible. So you have someone from the city and someone from outside the city. You have someone who is older and someone who is white and someone who isn't. Initially trying to play with those opposites and then finding some of the stuff and keeping it.

Question: How is it been working with the team you have here?

Auburn: Wendy [C. Goldberg] is such a thoughtful smart person who has great ideas about the play. And then you have two actors who are ideal for the characters that they play. They are the actors that I would like to keep doing it. There is something about what happens in a room and other people are responding to it, that a playwright, at least this playwright, needs to really hear the play, to see what's working and what isn't working and where people are engaged with it and where they are tuning out. You need that room and this is a great room. You are surrounded by other theatre artists and young theatre artists who have their perspectives and experienced ones and that all kind of goes into the soup.

Question: You've said that if you hadn't gone into playwriting you would have been interested in studying international policy. Your play right after Proof was [about] Mihail Sebastian, who is a Romanian journalist, and then The Columnist was based on Joseph Alsop. Where does the fascination for these personalities come from?

Auburn: It's an interesting coincidence that you mention that they both were journalists. Sebastian was also a journalist but he was primarily a playwright. Both of those came out of being interested in people. They were characters that were living through very tumultuous political circumstances and were struggling to define themselves in these circumstances. Sebastian was this aspiring young provincial Jewish intellectual who was trying to make a go of it in this very hothouse, very anti-Semitic world of Bucharest theatre. Alsop was a very conflicted gay conservative socialite in DC in the 60s. Both of them belong in and are outsiders in these worlds that they are trying to dominate.

Question: Relationships between parents and children keep coming up in your work.

Auburn: It just seems territory that when I get into it as a writer, it seems to resonate in me. Interesting things happens to me creatively. Those are central relationships in my life.