Playwright Stephen Belber Encourages Shifting Sympathies in His Family Drama Don't Go Gentle

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29 Sep 2012

Michael Cristofer
Michael Cristofer

Tape and Match playwright Stephen Belber plays both sides of the ethical fence in his new Off-Broadway play Don't Go Gentle, starring Michael Cristofer.


It has been said that moral ambiguity clings like an overcoat to the characters in Stephen Belber's plays, but the author doesn't see it that way. He just likes a good fight, an even match: "I think I'm not looking for a moral gray area but looking for a dramatic conflict where both sides of the conflict are very strong and are both sides that I can personally sympathize and empathize with. I definitely feel like I want to write both sides of a conflict really strongly, and I have to find my way into them."

Don't Go Gentle, he says, "is the best example." His latest opus is getting its world premiere by Off-Broadway's MCC Theater, opening Oct. 15 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village.

"The two sides are this question of Michael Cristofer's character wondering what his legacy will be in terms of family. He kinda creates this new family around him, comprised of Angela Lewis and Maxx Brawer, while his real blood family (David Wilson Barnes and Jennifer Mudge) are feeling, 'Wait a minute! That's not quite fair.'

"It has to do with: Has he a right to start over? Does he have a right to try to make amends for mistakes he has made with a whole new batch of people — or should he try to make amends with the people he screwed up with the first time? There are pros and cons to both sides. Who deserves to be helped more? How is his character capable of helping? As they argue, I literally want my sympathies to go back and forth, back and forth, with every line. I want to find a situation where I can create a healthy, vibrant, vigorous debate about the best way to live and the best way to die."

Belber has worked with his designated director before (on Geometry of Fire, for example). "She's pretty cute," he says of Lucie Tiberghien, the director — his wife. "We're not right for every project that comes down the pike, and we're very aware of that, so we never try to force it, but this one is just so right. Lucie had been developing it with me early on in some readings. It's something she connects to — something we happily discuss 24 hours a day and think about it lots, not just when we come together at rehearsal."


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