Like nuns and priests, most workers in the secular sacred terrain of theatrical endeavor soon grow accustomed to going unappreciated. Playwright George Brant, now 45, had written and staged more than two dozen works before gaining national attention.
Grounded, which the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre presented last season, shot to celebrity with the speed and inevitable, though benign, impact of a drone strike, which was its fraught subject. The play was lauded as a “nuanced and haunting portrait” in a New York Times review of its second New York production, at the Public Theater. All the attention has pumped up interest in Gamm’s upcoming staging of his play Grizzly Mama, a black comedy with a twisted take on motherhood, as Casey Seymour Kim plays a divorced suburban mom with a suspicious agenda in Alaska.
Recently, George Brant discussed his work with us.
When Grounded hit New York, to good reception, how did that make you feel, on the spectrum of yawning indifference to slap-happy joy?
Definitely closer to the slap-happy side of the spectrum! The whole experience was a bit of a dream — just one of the elements would have been enough to overwhelm me — working at the Public [Theater], working with Anne Hathaway, working with [director] Julie Taymor – to have all three come together in one project was beyond anything I’d every imagined.
Did you see the Gamm Theater staging of Grounded last year? If so, what was your impression of the production?
I did indeed get a chance to see the opening night of Gamm’s production and thought they did a fantastic job. [Judith Swift’s] direction was wonderful — that looming barcalounger! — and Liz Hayes was a woman on fire. Her descent into utter bloodthirstiness was equal parts terrifying and heartbreaking. [Gamm artistic director] Tony Estrella had told me they’d found someone great to play the part, and he wasn’t kidding.
From the reviews appreciating Grounded, did you gain any insights about the play or yourself as a writer?
It was fascinating to read what parts of the play connected with each reviewer: some were grabbed more by the surveillance aspects of the play, others by the drone technology, others with the Pilot’s attempt to balance her war and home life — the breadth of the response has been amazing.
it’s a tough profession, and there were certainly times I was ready to throw in the towel
Was your playwriting path a struggle?
It was, as it is for every playwright — it’s a tough profession, and there were certainly times I was ready to throw in the towel. But writing for the theatre has always been what’s brought me the most satisfaction, so I had no choice but to stick it out.
Why are you a playwright instead of a novelist or screenwriter?
I love the teamwork of putting on a play — the long debates over how best to bring a script to life, sweating away together in a rehearsal hall, discovering through others elements of the play you never would have found on your own. And theatre is increasingly one of the few places where humans gather to share a story told by other humans, in the same room, at the same time.
Gamm’s upcoming production is Grizzly Mama. How do you feel about that play, compared to your others?
I’m a big fan of Grizzly Mama and so thrilled that the play will be coming to the Gamm. It’s such an honor to be in back-to-back seasons here! And Grizzly Mama is a dark comedy that certainly has some political overtones, so it’s perfect for the this lunatic election season we find ourselves in.