Photography By Daniel Brock
An Interview with Leegrid Stevens
By Tutto Theatre Company
Tutto: Apart from any of your professors at SMU and Columbia, what modern playwrights influence you most?
LS: The most influential playwrights for me have been Anton Chekhov, Eugene O’Neill, Samuel Beckett, and Sam Shepard. Chekhov has probably influenced me the most out of those four. I constantly use his style and approach as a blueprint for structuring a new play. Sam Shepard has also been a big influence but more in terms of atmosphere and tone. Becket is strange to me because, generally speaking, I don’t enjoy his plays. However, I find myself constantly thinking about them and exploring his ideas. Right now I’m working on a play that is basically a modern Happy Days.
Tutto: There is a somewhat formulaic trend toward short plays--3-5 cast members, no more than two acts, upper middle class concerns and settings. Your plays are thoroughly unlike that; is this due to deliberate avoidance or pursuit of a different playwriting philosophy?
LS: You’re talking about middle-brow theatre! Ah, the middle. Not too artsy or ambitious, not too silly or stupid, just right in the middle with a comfortable sized (i.e., not expensive) cast and themes that play directly to the demographic of most theatre audiences (i.e., middle class with a stunning Manhattan apartment). I actually tried to write a play that fit that category and managed a three person cast, two acts, but it ended up being about a polygamist and one of his former wives who killed their child for his attention. So it didn’t quite apply to the theme of “stunning Manhattan apartment”.
To answer your question, it’s not deliberate avoidance or a different writing philosophy that prevents me from writing plays in that vein. The truth is that I simply can’t. I’ve tried and I immediately get totally depressed and I hate myself and think I’m a small person and a terrible playwright and, worst of all, that I’m utterly boring. So I stick with plays that feel impossible, and horribly flawed, and totally exciting. And I don’t feel like so much of a zero.
Tutto: Dialog in your plays and other writings shows an affinity for Spoonerism, the switching around of syllables in phrases to create nonsense phrases, often with editorial commentary implied or explicit. Is this a language feature that has always come easily to you, or is it a more thoughtful literary exploration you work very hard at in your plays? The Twelfth Labor is a real showcase of Spoonerisms.
LS: The most difficult subject for me in school was always spelling. I kept re-arranging the letters in the wrong ways. Calling it Spoonerism is kinda the nice way of putting it. But, yes, I think I’ve always had a facility (or failing) with that sort of thing. However, it was only after I encountered the work of James Joyce (Ulysses and
Finnegan’s Wake) that I became aware of the vast possibilities in puns and multiple layers of meaning. Twelfth Labor owes a great deal to those two books. I also read the entireDictionary of American Regional English (the first four volumes… Si-Z wasn’t published yet) and marked down all the interesting words for the play. That was no small task, I’ll tikki you that.
Tutto: Has anyone ever told you that you look like Brendan Frazier?
LS: Never, until last year, in Austin, live on the air with John Aielli of KUT-FM while I was promoting The Dudleys. During the interview he said I looked like Brendan Frasier and then we went to commercial and when we came back he assured all his listeners that I really do look like Brendan Frazier. Only in radio do I look like Brendan Frazier.