ROUNDABOUT BLOG

2012-2013 Season

A Conversation with Playwright, Steven Levenson

Posted on: May 28th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

Before rehearsals began, playwright Steven Levenson spoke with Education Dramaturg Ted Sod about his play, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin.

 

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? When did you decide to become a playwright?

Steven Levenson: I was born in Washington, DC, and I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland. I went to Brown for undergrad, which is where I started writing plays. I’d been involved in theatre as an actor up until that point. My senior year, I took a playwriting course with Paula Vogel, which really changed everything for me. Paula was the first person to say to me, “If you want to do this, this is something you can actually do.” And that was huge for me.

 

TS: Did you come immediately to New York after you graduated from Brown?

SL: Yes. I lucked into a job as the literary assistant at Playwrights Horizons, which was where a major part of my theatre education happened. I read plays and wrote script coverage and I got to see up close the process of how new play development worked. It also gave me the opportunity to see a tremendous variety of theater in New York, which was invaluable. Getting exposed to all kinds of different work allowed me to really examine what kind of theater I was drawn to and where I could see my own work eventually fitting into that larger landscape.

 

TS: I want to discuss writing a commissioned play because The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin was commissioned by Roundabout.

SL: It’s strange. Every experience I’ve had so far with writing a commissioned play, including this one, I’ve proposed an idea to the organization commissioning me and then ended up writing something completely different. I feel that might be part of my process. I think there’s an unconscious part of me that thinks that if I say I’m going to do something, I have to rebel against that and do something else. What’s so great about a commission is that you know that you’re not writing in a vacuum. There’s someone who’s waiting to read your play and give you feedback and really work with you on it.

 

TS: How did you decide this was a subject that was important to you to write about?

SL:  The germ of the idea came from a personal experience. A friend of mine in high school, her father was a prominent DC lawyer. The family led what seemed at the time to be a fairly charmed life. I didn’t really keep in touch with her after school. Years later, her father went to prison for a white-collar crime, which everyone who knew this family, this sort of perfect family, found just completely shocking, not at all something anyone would have guessed. Finally, six or seven years after I’d last seen her, I sat down with her and I just found her story – what had happened in those intervening years – completely heartbreaking. It made me wonder what it must be like for her father, who had recently been released from prison, how impossible a task to try to rebuild all that you’ve lost, to start over.

 

TS: Can you talk about the father-son dynamic between Tom and James? 

SL: As I developed the play, it became increasingly important to me that Tom not really seek forgiveness. He got caught with his hands in the cookie jar, but from his perspective everybody else was doing the same thing. He doesn’t come back seeking redemption. He comes back with one mission, which is trying to remake things into the way they were five years ago. For James, there’s so much of him that’s still the child looking up to his father, wanting his father’s love and approval. But at the same time there’s so much rage, all of the hurt and lost time between them. In a way, too, it’s a role reversal. It’s the father moving in with the son. It’s not the kid moving back in with his parents. So it’s a fraught status relationship between the two of them. It’s a constant battle for who is in charge.

 

TS: I want to talk about the relationship between James and Katie because they’re each bruised and damaged in their own way.

SL: These are two people who are broken in different ways and trying to put the pieces together for themselves. When I started the play, it was primarily Tom’s story. Now it’s a shared story, and Katie really helped unlock that for me. The relationship between James and Katie asks the same questions that the relationship between Tom and James asks: can people change? Can people heal?


TS: How did the collaboration with director Scott Ellis happen?

SL: I thought Scott was the perfect choice. At a certain point in developing the play, we got to where we felt like we wanted to hear it and we started bringing in actors and a director. I immediately said, “Scott is someone I would love to work with.”  I’m obviously a big fan of his work. Among his many talents, he’s a fantastic director with actors in terms of crafting performances and I really felt this play needed to be focused on the performances and the dynamics between these characters.

 

TS: What were you looking for from the actors?

SL: Tom and James were both tricky to cast, because we were looking for so many different things from each of them. For Tom, what you really want is someone with the strength and the ferocity of that character, but also someone whom the audience can really fall in love with. We want the audience to be as much under his spell as the other characters in the play are. He’s a broken person but he wasn’t always like that. He has a certain craftiness and intelligence about him and a powerful charisma.  David Morse is an actor who can switch on a dime from being compassionate and sensitive in one instant and then be utterly terrifying in the next. For James, we were really looking for vulnerability, somebody who could capture the damage that this young man has gone through and who can also convey that with a sense of humor and self-deprecation. We wanted both of these characters to be guys that you root for. Whether or not you continue to root for them, that’s another question. But we certainly lucked out with these two actors.

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin plays at the Laura Pels Theatre May 31 through August 25. For more information and tickets, visit our website.

This interview is from our Education at Roundabout Upstage Playgoer Guide.


Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, A Conversation with, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin


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The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, written by Steven Levenson and directed by Scott Ellis begins previews this week.

This production will be the world premiere of Steven’s new play, which we commissioned him to write after producing his first professional work, The Language of Trees, in our Roundabout Underground program in 2008. That trajectory makes this show a particularly fulfilling one for me, as it demonstrates exactly what I had always hoped would come from launching the New Play Initiative. We didn’t just produce a play and then send the young writer on his merry way to figure out what comes next; we gave Steven Levenson (like Stephen Karam before him) an artistic home where we could support whatever he did next. Happily, what he did next has turned out to be an utterly moving piece of work.

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin is blessed with a complicated title and a simple theme: what are we owed in life? The play poses that question on several levels, ranging from the familial to the global. At its core is the query of what a son owes to his father. If a man has loved you and raised you, are you obligated to forgive him for even the most egregious mistakes he has made? Is it fair for him to assume that you will? Tom Durnin fully expects to be welcomed home with open arms by his son James, but when it comes to that particular dynamic, nothing is ever that easy.

Set in 2009 against the backdrop of the recession and housing bust, the play also forces us to question what we as a society think we are owed by the “bad guys” of that period. Do we derive satisfaction from watching the Madoffs and Abramoffs put behind bars? Why do we feel this need to assign blame? What does it say about us if our outrage will only be calmed by watching the few individuals we can prosecute continue to suffer?

Tom Durnin is, ultimately, a play about finding the strength to move forward. When the world seems like it’s turned against these characters, plowing ahead can feel impossible. But if they are able to tap into their better selves, allowing love or forgiveness to sneak back into their lives, they might just stand a chance. And those who choose to look ahead and not dwell on what is owed to them from the past will find the best odds of reclaiming happiness.

I’m so happy to be bringing you this deeply felt new play. It’s a beautiful, mature work from a playwright who I know will be with us for years to come. I hope you enjoy Tom Durnin, and I will, as always, be eager to hear your response to the piece. Please remember to email me with your thoughts at artisticoffice@roundabouttheatre.org.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

Sincerely,

Todd Haimes
Artistic Director

 


Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin


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2013 Award Season

Posted on: April 22nd, 2013 by Roundabout

 

Roundabout has been racking up the nominations!

Tony Award Nominations:

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Best Revival of a Musical
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical  — Stephanie J. Block
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical —  Will Chase
Best Direction of a Musical —  Scott Ellis
Best Scenic Design of a Musical —  Anna Louizos 

The Big Knife
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play —  Richard Kind 

Cyrano de Bergerac
Best Costume Design of a Play — Soutra Gilmour

Full list of nominees.

 

Bobby Cannavale, Richard Kind and Reg Rogers in 'The Big Knife';
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus, 2013

Drama Desk Nominations:

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Outstanding Revival of a Musical or Revue
Outstanding Actor in a Musical — Jim Norton
Outstanding Actress in a Musical — Stephanie J. Block
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical — Andy Karl
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical — Jessie Mueller
Outstanding Set Design — Anna Louizos
Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical — Tony Meola

The Big Knife
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play — Richard Kind

If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play — Brían F. O'Byrne

Full list of nominees.

 

Tracee Chimo and Michael Zegen in 'Bad Jews'; Photo Credit: Joan Marcus, 2012

Drama League Nominations:

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Outstanding Revival of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Musical
Distinguished Performance Award — Jim Norton
Distinguished Performance Award — Chita Rivera

Harvey
Distinguished Performance Award — Jessica Hecht

If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet
Distinguished Performance Award — Jake Gyllenhaal

Bad Jews
Distinguished Performance Award — Tracee Chimo

Talley's Folly
Distinguished Performance Award — Danny Burstein

The Big Knife
Distinguished Performance Award — Bobby Cannavale

Read the full list of nominees.

 

The cast of 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'; Photo Credit: Joan Marcus, 2012

Outer Critics Circle Award Nominations:

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Outstanding Revival of a Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Outstanding Director of a Musical — Scott Ellis
Outstanding Costume Design (Play or Musical) — William Ivey Long
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical — Will Chase

Bad Jews
Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play
Outstanding Actress in a Play — Tracee Chimo
John Gassner Award — Joshua Harmon

The Big Knife
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play — Richard Kind

Read the full list of nominees.

 

Jake Gyllenhaal and Annie Funke in 'If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet';
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus, 2012

Lucille Lortel Award Nominations:

If There Is I Haven't Found it Yet
Outstanding Featured Actor — Jake Gyllenhaal
Outstanding Featured Actress — Annie Funke
Outstanding Scenic Design — Beowulf Boritt

Talley's Folly
Outstanding Revival
Outstanding Lead Actor — Danny Burstein

Lifetime Achievement Award — Todd Haimes

Read the full list of nominees.


Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season


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