Sara Farrington's LEISURE LUST Opens at Art House Productions
Written by 2-time Drama Desk nominee Sara Farrington, Leisure, Lust is inspired by two very divergent worlds: Edith Wharton's upper crust 1% and social reformer Jacob Riis's most impoverished underclass. Farrington tackles issues of gender, sex, love, mental illness, and class in a tangled knot of privilege, poverty, and the myth of the American dream.
The plot revolves around the savage imagination of novelist Grace Hunter (based on Wharton), whose husband Harry is rapidly losing his grip on reality. A mysterious stranger, Delancey Morris, emerges and sets off this intricate, decades-spanning, turn-of-the-century love story--where nothing is exactly as it seems.
- Tell us a little about yourself.
SF: I am a passionate and expressive playwright, obsessive and DIY theater maker. I'm also a 9-5 working mom. I have two little curly haired blond boys named Jack and Levi. I'm married to director Reid Farrington, who I work with as well. We live in Maplewood, NJ. I trained and worked as an actor in NYC for a long time before committing entirely to playwriting, got my MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College under the eyeballs of the great playwright Mac Wellman. I'm a classic Simpsons expert, an avid runner, a lover art and history. I think knowing about history is enormously important, especially as Americans because we live so fast and forgetfully. And I'm also endlessly curious about stuff, and I love curious people. I think that's the most important trait a person can have.
- What made you want to be a playwright?
SF: Being an actor. Although I think I have always been a playwright--- I just didn't know it for a very long time because, when I was young, I assumed a passion for the theater had to manifest as an acting talent. So I studied acting and performance for decades--- I could sing, dance, got high off the adrenaline, loved every minute of the live-ness, the lifestyle, the thrill of it. I actually worked a lot as an actor in NYC, but there was always this glimmer of "this isn't you" in my head. Despite all my training, I realized eventually that I wasn't an actor, I was a writer of actors. And for me that's so much more powerful. That's where I could tell a story, express myself, truly unleash my artistic voice. I like to think I write like a good actor acts: always present, listening, with ever-present desire and hunger and want. Also, like a good actor, it's very important to me to be not boring. Boredom is death in the theater and I get bored so easily. Also, my plays are highly physical. Always, always. I can't stand talking or clever dialogue in plays--- I mean, unless it's serving a real, driving purpose. Witty banter, a pat ending, a moral, an agenda, cleverness, all that, to me, is death. For me, theater is about desire and presentness. So I strive toward that in my plays. I learned that as an actor. There are also the playwrights and theater artists who made me want to be a playwright too, some I know, some I don't know: Eugene O'Neill, Mac Wellman, Tennessee Williams, Robert Wilson, The Wooster Group, Paula Vogel, Lisa D'Amour, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, Stella Adler, Chekhov, Ibsen, Beckett, Ivo Van Hove, I could go on and on. So many people have inspired my being a playwright. I feel very lucky to have playwriting, to escape into it.
- What are you most excited about exploring in this next production of Leisure, Lust at Art House?
SF: I'm very excited! Art House is brand new territory for this play. The last time we presented it was in January, site-specifically, in Edith Wharton's real life bedroom and boudoir at her home, The Mount in Lenox, MA. It gave the play an almost unbearable intimacy--- like we were watching something we shouldn't be. I loved that so much, this voyeuristic journey, almost too emotional for me to go through again and again. So I am very curious about transferring that feeling to a theater, how it will feel. Will it be like that again? Will it be even more so? What terrifies me the most though is presenting and workshopping Labor, which is the third part of this play. It is very new and untried, I've never done it with actors yet. It explores a jump in time, place and circumstance that the others don't. I have no idea if it will work or not. I never know if anything will work till I work with actors and a director, in this case the brilliant and visionary Marina McClure, who has been building this piece with me since 2014. Thinking something might fail and rewriting on its feet is why being a playwright takes a certain kind of crazy, steely artistic soldier.
- Can you tell us a little about the third installment, Labor?
SF: My goal in Labor is to examine poverty and work. Leisure and Lust are plays about affluence, how it corrupts, how it changes what you worry about, what you hide and reveal, what it protects and destroys. Labor will speak to the other side of that, the horror of having nothing, of real hunger, survival, of one dollar, one job, one meal standing between living and dying. Labor is the origin story of the secondary characters in Leisure and Lust, that of Delancey Morris and his prostitute mother on the Lower East Side, and Lucy and her family's experience during the Great Famine in Ireland. These two storylines run concurrently, although in a different time and place, track to the play's sparking moment, the suicide of the protagonist Harry Hunter.
- Your work is mainly presented in New York, but you live in NJ. Is there anything different about presenting in your home state?
SF: I love New Jersey. I love it. I have been living in Maplewood for the past few years. NJ is this gritty, flowery, spacious, gorgeous, sexy arm of NYC that shoots out. I feel lucky to live in Maplewood, where so many artistic people live and have a life, can use New York for what they need it for, then come home, to an oasis of beauty and intelligence that is so close! I almost don't want to say this out loud because then people will find out! I lived in Brooklyn for over 13 years and was admittedly so nervous over the NJ move, but I have never looked back. I walk off the train in Maplewood and it's like a tension releasing "Aaaahhh!" every day. It's my home and my calm and my peace now. I write my very best work in New Jersey. I am so inspired here, and it gives me an enormous perspective on NYC actually, what it is, what it means, what it does for me. So yeah I couldn't be prouder that this is happening in NJ and I hope it leads to more engagements here.