Interview with Playwright, Donald Margulies
Ted Sod: I was wondering if you'd tell us where you were born, where you were educated and when you decided to become a playwright.
Donald Margulies: A baby-boomer born and raised in Brooklyn, I am the product of a middle-class, secular Jewish family and spent most of my childhood (between the ages of nine and 19) living in Trump Village, a high-rise, middle-income housing development in Coney Island. I was educated during the Golden Age of New York City's public school system, and was in the first graduating class of John Dewey High School, then a highly-touted, "experimental" school that, thankfully for a kid like me, eschewed team sports but celebrated eclecticism and creativity. I had discovered from a very early age that I could draw and dazzle people with elaborate book report covers and Brotherhood Week posters. When it came time to go to college, I went to Pratt Institute, the art conservatory in downtown Brooklyn, because they gave me financial aid. I lived at home and commuted on the F and GG trains to college. I always had an interest in reading and writing but, at Pratt, there were no mentors for me to talk to . I ended up transferring to SUNY Purchase, where I continued to be an art major but where I pursued my curiosity about playwriting, with Julius Novick, who became my first champion in the theatre.
TS: Novick was a critic.
DM: For The Village Voice; his was a byline that I knew. I read his criticism, so when I met him I felt very privileged. I knocked on his office door and introduced myself as an art major who wanted to write plays and he said, "Have you ever written a play before?" I said, "No." And he said, "I would be delighted to work with you." It was as if I had suddenly been given permission to write plays.
TS: Did you get writing work right away?
DM: I finished college in 1977 (with a BFA in Visual Art) and, the following year, was accepted into the MFA program in playwriting at Brooklyn College, which I left after eight weeks. While supporting myself as a freelance graphic designer in publishing, I joined a group being started by Jeffrey Sweet that came to be called The New York Writers Bloc. We were a plucky band of playwrights, performers and directors, who met in living rooms and, as we grew, in rented spaces, every Monday night for more than a decade. Among the members were Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, who were at that time looking for a non-Writer's Guild writer to work on a monthly program they were hosting on HBO. I wrote a spec script, was hired, and quit my day job as an art editor at Scholastic Magazines. That was 1980. I have earned a living as a writer ever since.
TS: Can you remember how the inspiration for Dinner with Friends came to you?
DM: I was going through a period of seeing relationships all around me implode. My wife and I have been married 26 years, we were together eight years before we married, and had our son years after that. There were relationships with friends that we took for granted as always being part of our lives. At the time I created the play, in the late nineties, I found myself thinking about the phenomenon of people approaching middle-age who reevaluate their lives and end relationships. Friends of ours were going through aspects of what the foursome in Dinner with Friends go through, but my wife and I seemed to be the ones around whom the maelstrom was swirling.
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