Landscapes and Plays
Much has been written about the writer’s relationship to landscape (tangible, physical, specific, geographic) as well as the internal terrain of emotions, memories, erasures, sensations, etc. Both (and more) come into play when you are writing a text for performance. For example, there are some plays I have written directly inspired by a place or city or series of cities where I have been. Other plays have been created out of scraps of places encountered: an invented landscape. Whether drawing directly from a site or making a site out of others the places where your play lives (inside the world of the play) are always, in the end, invented/made up. It cannot help but be so because in the act of making a play you are already involved in a process of transformation.
Some plays are governed more by landscape than others. For instance, in Landscape and Theatre, Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhuri speak eloquently about the way many of the “language playwrights” (Mac Wellman, Suzan-Lori Parks, Ruth Margraff, Matthew Maguire, Len Jenkin, Erik Ehn) are truly “landscape playwrights.” Their use of language is topographical, expansive, physical, and demands embodiment in a different manner than say, the work of more “interior” playwrights like Christopher Shinn, Rebecca Gilman, Neil LaBute, and so forth. It is true that plays are always, ultimately, in the here of place. Whether we call it Illyria, Athens, or Chicago, the here is always the theatre space itself. Some writers use the theatre as their only space: a space without necessary referents. But even some of the wiliest of self-referents will occasionally refer to another Here in the here, so that the theatre space is always doubled or tripled in perspective.
Maria Irene Fornes, Federico García Lorca, Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, and other poets of the theatre have understood how to make the landscapes of their plays, which merge direct referents with personal identifications and disidentifications, resonate within them and at their best extend outside them. So, for instance, New Orleans will always contain A Streetcar Named Desire and the California desert will always contain the warrior brothers in True West.
What is the map we see inside the blank page? What are the maps we make when we write? What is their essential geography? And what new points do we make on the larger, global map when we write a play?