Saturday, December 29, 2007

Two Ways of Classifying Playwrights

I've just started digging into this week's New York Times Magazine-- the annual "The Lives They Lived" issue, highlighting interesting people who died in 2007. In past years, my favorite articles in this section have been Tony Kushner's short plays (check out his works on Nixon's shrink and on two unusual women) but he didn't contribute one this year.

Meanwhile, I'm also reading Wendy Wasserstein's compilation of essays Shiksa Goddess, and it includes a "The Lives They Lived" article from 1996, about Martha Entenmann, founder of the baked-goods empire and inventor of the see-through cake box. That got me thinking about something I heard once and remember often, about writers and food:

It's summer 2006, about ten o'clock at night, and I and seven other winners of the Young Playwrights' Contest are sitting in the Morning Star Diner devouring big slices of pie with Lucas and Sheri, who work at Young Playwrights. We thank them for the food and the invaluable experience of feeling like a successful New York writer.

Sheri says, "There's two kinds of playwrights in this world: those who lose weight when they're writing a play, and those who gain weight." She explains that the people who lose weight stay up all night and subsist on cigarettes and coffee and alcohol when they have to finish a play. Meanwhile, the gainers write in cafes or restaurants, or they need to feel cozy and comforted while writing, and so they snack a lot.

Some of my fellow winners, mostly the guys, are attracted by the macho romance of being one of the weight-losing playwrights: drinking and smoking and sweating out a Hemingwayesque masterpiece. (Some of them even use typewriters.) But I sheepishly admit, "I'm probably a gainer."

Sheri and Lucas assure me that I'm in good company: Tony Kushner and Wendy Wasserstein are also gainers. "You can always tell when Tony's working on a new play!" laughs Sheri.

I still think about this way of classifying writers. And Lucas and Sheri's assessments seem to be spot-on. Wasserstein writes about food in several of the Shiksa Goddess essays, and I just watched a documentary about Kushner called Wrestling with Angels, where he talks about becoming 100 pounds overweight because he always wrote with a box of Entenmann's chocolate chip cookies by his side.

So what is it about playwrights and Entenmann's? Have I just been eating the wrong cookies all these years? If I switch to Entenmann's, will I suddenly acquire the eloquence of Kushner and Wasserstein?

It's worth a shot. Except, of course, for the "gaining weight" aspect.

No comments: