How playwright Lonnie Carter prevails is a mystery worthy of the Sphinx. Actually, it’s a wonder he’s survived. But, a living breathing exception that proves the rule, Carter is that rare absurdist who, while being faithful to the craft, is also a commercial success. He even bagged an Obie Award. And we’ve got him in the Twin Cities with Mu Performing Arts producing The Romance of Magno Rubio.
You can count on one hand contemporary absurdist authors who make a go of it. Between Arthur Sainer (Day Old Bread: The Worst Good Time I Ever Had), Silas Jones (Canned Goods), and Carter, that ground is pretty much covered—with Lonnie Carter hauling down hit after hit.
Since The Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy, a satirical tour de force of gritty mother-wit-cum-social-comment, Carter has been a breath of fresh theatrical air. There’s been Iz She Izzy Or Iz He Ain’tzy Or Iz They Both, Necktie Party, and The Lost Boys of Sudan, in a canon more than a dozen strong (Carter’s always working on a new script). He’s a Guggenheim Fellow, twice a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts, and twice a Fellow of the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. He is a member of the Playwrights’ Ensemble at Victory Gardens Theatre (Chicago) as well as a resident playwright at New Dramatists (NYC). A graduate of Marquette University and the Yale School of Drama, Carter teaches playwriting in the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at New York University.
This isn’t Carter’s first foray to the Twin Cities. He’s developed scripts at the Playwrights’ Center and The Lost Boys Of Sudan saw its premiere at the Children’s Theatre Company. Lonnie Carter’s Obie Award is for The Romance of Magno Rubio, which sees its Twin Cities premiere September 4th at Mixed Blood Theater. The original production at Ma-Yi Theater Company walked of with 8 Obies.
Between being a successful playwright and a doting dad to his daughters, he found time for a brief e-mail interview.
|the romance of magno rubio, presented by mu performing arts through september 27 at mixed blood theater, 1501 s. 4th st., minneapolis. for tickets ($15-$20) and information, see mixedblood.com.|
Was Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy, your through-the-roof-hit at Woodie King’s New Federal Theatre, the breakthrough vehicle? What production of which play put you over, brought you to national attention?
“Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy” was first done at Victory Gardens [Theatre] in Chicago. A word about Victory Gardens: I spend a lot of time on the Right Coast for family reasons. I can’t convince them to move to the Middle Coast, but my heart, soul, guts are Upper Midwest. Chicago first off, as we used to say in the ‘hood. Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy languished at Victory Gardens for seven years, 1978 to ’85. [They produced it] in 1985, directed by Dennis Zacek. The Chicago Theater Company run by the great Chuck Smith, did [the play] the summer of ’85. Then in ’86 Woodie King produced [it] with Andre De Shields as King Nebuchadnezzaar. Victory Gardens reprised a re-written [version] in 1998 to open their 25th season.
I met you when you were instructing years ago at Fredrick Douglass Creative Arts Center and at NYU. Do you still teach?
I still teach. NYU Dramatic Writing Program. I will fall in the cafeteria line.
Why did you write The Romance of Magno Rubio?
Because Loy Arcenas, my longtime collaborator, told me to work up the short story of the same name by the great Filipino writer Carlos Bulosan. The short story is less than 10 pages and has no rhyme. As we conceived the theater piece, it just grew like Topsy—a Pinoy Rap version of Topsy, but nonetheless.
You and Mu Performing Arts founding artistic director Rick Shiomi took a good two years to pull the trigger on this. What sort of things got hashed out?
Rick and I didn’t exactly hash out anything. He’s wanted to do the piece since he saw it in New York, I believe. It was a matter of funding…as always.
What’s next for you?
Next up is The Lost Boys of Sudan at Victory Gardens in March. Lots of prep to do. First done at Children’s Theatre, now reconstituted, re-staged, re-upped! Also have piece with Sherry Shephard-Massat, one of the best writers in America, called Two Great Oceans, about Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Sure you have enough on your plate.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.
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