BWW Interview: Playwright D.W. Gregory and MEMOIRS OF A FORGOTTEN MAN at NJ Rep
New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present the National New Play Network Rolling world premiere of Memoirs of a Forgotten Man by D.W. Gregory from August 15-September 15, 2019. Directed by James Glossman, the play stars Amie Bermowitz, Steve Brady, Andrea Gallo, and Benjamin Satchel.
A Soviet journalist with the gift of total recall. A psychologist seeking to rehabilitate herself. A government censor with a secret past. Their fates become entwined as victims and collaborators in Stalin's campaign to rewrite public memory. Long before fake news was a trending topic, it was called propaganda. And in the Soviet Union, it was the grease that kept Stalin's machinery of terror in motion. A haunting and suspenseful political thriller based on a true story.
Gregory's plays frequently explore political issues through a personal lens and with a comedic twist. The New York Times called her "a playwright with a talent to enlighten and provoke" for her most produced work, RADIUM GIRLS (Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey), about the famous case of industrial poisoning. Other plays include MOLUMBY'S MILLION (Iron Age Theatre), nominated for a Barrymore Award by Philadelphia Theatre Alliance; THE GOOD DAUGHTER and OCTOBER 1962 (NJ Rep); and a new musical comedy, THE YELLOW STOCKING PLAY, with composer Steven M. Alper and lyricist Sarah Knapp. She is also a two-time finalist for the Heideman Award at Actor's Theater of Louisville, where her comedy SO TELL ME ABOUT THIS GUY was produced. Gregory also writes for youth theatre and makes occasional appearances as a teaching artist. SALVATION ROAD was the winner of the American Alliance for Theatre in Education's Playwrights in Our Schools Award and developed through NYU's New Plays for Young Audiences program. In August 2018, Dramatics Magazine listed RADIUM GIRLS among the 10 Most Produced Plays in American High School Theatre.
Broadayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing D.W. Gregory about her career and Memoirs of a Forgotten Man.
When did you first discover your writing talents?
I started writing short stories when I was about 10 years old. Used to buy little notebooks and fill them up with stories about orphans and kids getting trapped in caves and that kind of thing. In high school -- when other kids were at the basketball game or going to parties --
I sat home alone and wrote stories to entertain myself. I wasn't very well socialized but I had a jump-start on learning the craft.
Are there any particular mentors who have encouraged your work?
John Pietrowski at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey (now Writer's Theatre) was the first to give me a professional production, which is the greatest encouragement any playwright can hope for. He is a great resource for development of new work, having done readings of nine or ten of my plays; I've lost track. He 's got a great eye and a wonderful approach to plays in process -- which can be a delicate matter if you've got an early draft and you haven't quite found the optimal structure. He understands the writer's process because he's a playwright himself. Suzanne and Gabor Barabas have been very encouraging for much the same reasons; they too will read whatever I give them and they've done a number of readings and productions of my plays over the years. Getting into a rehearsal room with actors and director is essential for any playwright -- that's where you find out what works and what doesn't -- so these relationships have been invaluable.
Have you always been interested in history and political intrigue?
In playwriting I gravitate towards historical subjects. I don't know why exactly. I've written a few plays that are contemporary, but most are set in the past. When it comes to recreational reading, I prefer history -- social history, in particular -- historical novels, and classics. So I guess it's no surprise that my plays tend to go there as well. There's great value in looking backwards to understand where we are now. And often the past is rich with cautionary tales -- many times we don't heed the lessons, but they are there for us to tap.
What would you advise people who are interested in playwriting?
Take acting classes. Understand how an actor will approach your script and you will write a better script.
What makes Memoirs of a Forgotten Man a standout story?
Memoirs of a Forgotten Man tells the story of a Soviet journalist with the gift of total recall, the psychologist who works with him, and a government official desperate to track him down. Moving back and forth between the Great Purge of the late 1930s and the Khrushchev "thaw" of the 1950s, the play is both a personal drama about a family struggling to survive in a time of great chaos, and a psychological thriller about what happens when a country allows its leaders to define what is real and what is not.
For me, it's a powerful tale about innocent people who are caught up in the machinery of a corrupt government, and who contribute to that corruption through their own complacency. Though it takes place in Soviet Russia in the 1930s and 1950s, it has much to say to Americans in the early 21st Century.
How do you like working with NJ Rep once again?
It's terrific -- you always know you're in good hands with this company. The design is always top-notch and they're able to attract wonderful actors.
Tell us a little about the cast/creative of the show.
The director James Glossman is someone I've worked with in the past -- he's directed a couple of readings of mine, both here at NJ Rep and at Playwrights' theatre -- so I'm excited to work with him on a full production. He's a really smart director, very sharp and able to zero in on the heart of a scene. He's one of the hardest working people I know -- teaches at Johns Hopkins, writes his own plays, and has directed off-Broadway and in regional theatre--one of his recent projects was the U.S. premiere of John Cleese's new comedy Bang! Bang!
The cast includes Benjamin Satchel as the Memory Man, Alexei S.; Steve Brady as the investigator, Kreplev; Amie Bermowitz as Natalya, the psychologist who works with the memory man; and Andrea Gallo as a series of other characters, but principally Alexei's mother, Sonia. Steve and Amy also double into the roles of Alexei's older brother Vasily and their inquisitive neighbor, Madame Demidova.
Everyone but Steve has appeared at NJ Rep previously -- this is his NJ Rep debut. Amie was in the NJ Rep production of the musical Bookends, for example; Andrea starred in two one-woman shows-- Broomstick and Donna Orbits the Moon--at NJ Rep. Ben appeared in Struck. It's a terrific cast; the actors collectively have amazing credits on Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theatre, television, and film. Steve was most recently in Inherit the Wind on Broadway, for example, and did the national tour of The Exonerated. Amy starred in the off-Broadway show Goldstein.
The set design is by Jessica Parks; costumes by Patricia E. Doherty; lights by Jill Nagle; sound by Merek Royce Press -- all resident designers with the company. They work on every play at NJ Rep -- and having resident designers means you have people who know the space intimately and who know each other's work intimately -- that creates a really wonderful synergy and I think that translates into really high quality production values. I also need to give a shout-out to production stage manager Rose Riccardi and stage manager Adam von Pier, who provide the machinery to keep this train on the tracks.
Can you share any of your upcoming plans for the future?
This is the third installment in a National New Play Network rolling world premiere for Memoirs of a Forgotten Man. After this I will be going home to work on a few new projects--including readings of two new works at the Kennedy Center's Page to Stage Festival on Labor Day: Washington Stage Guild will present my new comedy, A Thing of Beauty, and Transmission Theatre will present a new one-act as part of a bill of short plays called Gas/Food/Lodging. I am also looking forward to a production of my drama Salvation Road at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre in London this October. Beyond that I have a few other scripts in process -- in particular, a drama called Charming Forge, about a Hessian soldier during the American Revolution.
You can follow D.W. Gregory on Facebook, on Twitter at @dwgregorywrites and on her website at https://dwgregory.com/.
Memoirs of a Forgotten Man runs August 15 - September 15, 2019. Previews are Thursday and Friday, August 15 and 16 at 8:00 PM, and Saturday, August 17 at 3:00 PM. A special talk-back with the playwright and director will be held after the first preview, Thursday, August 15. Opening night with reception is Saturday, August 17 at 8:00 PM. Regular performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM; Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $50 (opening night with reception, $60; premium seating + $5). Tickets are subject to a service charge. Annual subscriptions are $225 per person. 3-show Flex Passes, redeemable on Thursday and Friday nights, are $99 per person. For tickets or additional information call 732-229-3166 or visit http://www.njrep.org/.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of D.W. Gregory