The Goodman Theatre's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced has arrived to the iconic space this fall. It is the story of a Wall Street attorney, Amir Kapoor, wrestling with his past and future. His artistic wife throws a small dinner party and chaos ensues with the mixed company.
Out dramaturg Jonathan L. Green has not only worked on Disgraced but is also the artistic director at Sideshow Theatre Company. In an email interview, this is what he said.
Windy City Times: First off, talk about your theater background and where you grew up.
Jonathan L. Green: I grew up in central Virginia in a small town, and I ended up at [the University of Virginia] for school. It was there that I started working on new plays with professors and other students, and it was so meaningful that several years later I ended up moving to Chicago with a few other friends I met there to start Sideshow Theatre, focusing on new work that interacts with and explodes familiar storiesother plays, yes, but also books, true stories, music, visual art and more. I am a dramaturg, director and the artistic director of Sideshow outside of my position here at the Goodman as the literary management associate.
WCT: What was your journey to work at the Goodman?
JG: Before coming to the Goodman, I worked at Lookingglass Theatre for seven years. That was a really formative time in my artistic life. I got a chance right from the start to see how a well known, pretty well functioning ensemble theater company worked.
It was fascinating to see how the company dealt with such a large number of stakeholders, both artistically and administratively. It taught me a lot about collaboration and communication. It was a difficult decision to leave Lookingglass, but I felt like I was ready to experience the daily grind of a larger company with a completely different mode of operating. I love how specific and focused everyone's job is here are the Goodman. The staff is incredibly skilled and efficient; it allows everyone to excel in their own field because we feel so well-supported by each other.
WCT: Explain what a dramaturg does.
JG: The role of a dramaturg varies greatly depending on the show, the playwright, the director, the theatre, and so on. I guess if I had to boil it down I'd say that a dramaturg is charged with developing and framing context for the piece as well as monitoring continuity for the playwright, the director, the cast, the production staff and the audiences.
On a world premiere, the dramaturg can work heavily with the playwright to develop the script. On a piece where the written script is no longer in flux a dramaturg often acts as a researcher and source for historical, social, and psychological information for the director and the actors. Most of the time, the dramaturg is also called upon to create context for the audience to be able to enjoy the play, pre-show lectures, post-show discussions, articles for the playbill, etc.
WCT: Were you able to add moments to lighten the heaviness of the show a bit?
JG: Because Ayad and Kimberly were able to work together for years on the development of this play, the tone for the production was a result of their hard work. I think the play works well this way. There are a lot of laughs in between the heavier content and I think that allows the audience to empathize with the characters.
WCT: Is the part about not being able to eat bread at the dinner your idea?
JG: No, it was in the script before I started work on this production! It's a great line though; it gets a hearty laugh every night.
WCT: What can LGBT audiences specifically take away from Disgraced?
JG: I think that anyone who has ever felt "other" can find themselves in this play. It talks a lot about assimilation and appropriation, and we see in all the characters people who sometimes feel disempowered because of a cultural identification. Amir, the protagonist in this play, was raised in a Muslim household and his heritage is Pakistani, but I think that we in the LGBTQ community can find plenty of parallels to our own lives in the struggles he faces.
WCT: What do you think of the timeliness of the show?
JG: It's certainly a post-9/11 play but I think it's pretty telling that it feels as ripped-from-the-headlines today as it did when it premiered in 2012. At some of the post show discussions we've been having with our audience, people have pointed out parallels between the issues of the play and today's news stories, Ahmed's clock, the recent televised GOP debates, and the savage beating of a 53-year-old Sikh man in Darien just a couple weeks ago have been brought up in conversations with our audiences in the past week.
WCT: Did you see parallels with the recent news of the young student accused of bringing a bomb to school and the young nephew in this show?
JG: Certainly, both boys have suffered trauma from Islamophobia and bigoted public officials, but I hesitate to draw too many comparisons between Abe and Ahmed Mohamed because the boys' reactions were so different.
WCT: Talk a bit about Sideshow Theatre Company and your role as artistic director. How was directing Stupid Fucking Bird recently?
JG: Remounting Stupid Fucking Bird was a fantastic experience. We first produced the show in the summer of 2014, and I think the piece really found its audience. The mix of irony, pathos, metatheater and cutting humor felt to me like a faithful homage to Chekhov and an urgent message to this generation of theatergoers.
Remounting the show a year later in a much bigger space we worked really hard to let the larger footprint of the production enhance the experience of the show, rather than hinder it. I was very happy that we still maintained the intimacy and spark of the ensemble. It's been a very successful year for Sideshow between that production, and Antigonick and Chalk. I am excited for our audiences to see how we've grown even further since then. Our ninth season will be something to behold.
WCT: What are your future projects?
JG: At the Goodman we are getting ready to begin rehearsals for the New Stages Festival, three workshop productions and four readings of brand new work. I'm dramaturging Octavio Solis' Mother Road as part of New Stages. Then later on this season I'm dramaturging The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. For Sideshow, I'm working right now on developing two new plays with Philip Dawkins and Bonnie Metzgar, and we're just getting started planning our 10th season.
Disgraced stirs up controversy at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., now through Oct. 25. Visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org/Disgraced or call 312-443-3800 for ticket information .