Let’s begin by taking a quick look at The New York Monologues, which runs for just another two days. Short notice, true — but I don’t think it should be missed.
Mike Poblete’s catalyzing play is, to put it mildly, timed perfectly for this mad, marauding, for-or-against-the-mosque moment.
Presented by Backyart Productions as part of the Dream Up Festival at Theater for the New City (155 First Ave.), The New York Monologues is that most precious commodity: truth in advertising. It’s a series of “fast-paced rants” by a police officer, mortician, soccer coach, deli owner and a tour guide, among others, who reveal how the events of Sept. 11 changed their lives — that is, in ways small as well as large. Bobby Abido, Simon Feil, Taylor D. Martin, Delance Minefee, Laurie Schroeder and Max Woetendyke play these characters.
The direction of the play is the handiwork of Ruth McGowan.
What surprises so much about The New York Monologues is how the remarkably unaffected the storytelling is. That is no small achievement in our hyper-polarized political culture. (Watch this nifty video here.)
I enjoyed this video interview with Poblete, but I also felt he needed the CFR’s 5 Questions treatment. So when he sent an email and asked for one, we readily agreed. We think his answers will be pretty illuminating.
The New York Monologues runs until Aug. 22 at Theatre for the New City; for tickets, times and more info., click here.
And now, 5 questions Mike Poblete has never been asked — and a bonus question:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“How can you write about things you’ve never lived?”
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Why write if every story has already been told?”
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Are you writing about incest from personal experience?”
4) Some say the 9/11 attacks ushered in an age of irony — that it’s really the only way for Americans to handle the magnitude of the event. Do you think there’s much irony in your monologues? What other qualities make the monologues specifically of our time?
I think the irony was always there, but I completely agree a sense of distance and humor became necessary to cope. The problem is we have built up the reverence of the post-9/11 culture so much that even now, people often feel guilty finding the humor, though that’s changing. One of the monologues features a man blaming his inability to maintain an erection on 9/11 PTSD — is that ironic? New Yorkers have always been a neurotic, over-analytical, self-deprecating population, and we need to treat our post-9/11 culture the same way.
5) For you, as a writer, what are the limits of 9/11 subject matter? Are there elements that can never be funny? Are there elements that should be funny? How difficult has it been to balance character with context and tone?
There’s humor everywhere and nowhere; it’s completely up to the individual. Does a holocaust survivor find elements of Inglorious Basterds humorous? As long as we have norms telling us we can’t laugh at something, there will be a minority telling us why we must laugh. And personally I think we’re long overdue to have a good laugh at ourselves during the Bush years. I never really tried balancing the characters, I just had them say a lot of the things I’ve only heard in living rooms. Some of it has been interpreted as offensive, but it all comes from a genuine place.
6) Where do you personally stand on the Cordoba House controversy? If you support the right to build the structure on Park Place, how should people respond to the racist right? If you think it’s an insensitive idea and shouldn’t be built, how should people respond to the left?
I just wrote the New York Post about this — they didn’t publish my letter (shockingly). It’s a sensitive issue: I think it’s common sense for those building the cultural center to provide all information about the funding and proposed services. I mean, they knew what they were getting into and it’s hard to argue with transparency. But while I think there are a lot of smart, sensible people opposing this project, not matter how you articulate it, equating Islam with the perverted dogma of a few lunatic plane hijackers boils down to bigotry and we’re better than that. By the way, does no one care about the mosque located even closer to Ground Zero that predates the Twin Towers?