5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: James Comtois


Photo by Randi Rosenblum

James Comtois is co-founder and co-artistic director of Nosedive Productions, where he serves as the company’s resident playwright. Their/his latest production, Infectious Opportunity, runs June 7, June 9, July 1 and July 3 at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 575 Metropolitan Avenue, as part of the Brick’s Antidepressant Festival.

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Here’s the synopsis:

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Wes Farley, a screenwriter known for having HIV, is enjoying national attention with his latest film. There’s only one problem: he’s faked his illness for the past 10 years to boost his career, and is now slowly comprehending the drawbacks of his plan. With the help of his friend Josie, Wes revisits his past and sees how an ill-advised white lie early in life ensnared him in his current situation.

Comtois’ previous plays include The Adventures of Nervous Boy (A Penny Dreadful), The Attempt, Colorful World, Dying Goldfish, Jiffy Squid, Nona, Suburban Peepshow and A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol.

For tickets, click here.

And now, five questions James Comtois has never been asked. And a bonus question.

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1) What’s the most perceptive question about your work anyone has asked you?
Teresa Jusino actually asked me a number of perceptive questions in an interview on the Pink Raygun webzine. In particular, she asked if I thought that examining the world through a geeky prism was worthwhile, since a number of my plays have “an incredibly geeky bent.” (I often like using “fanboy” genres, like the superhero story, pulp noir and horror). Michael Criscuolo asked me a similar question as well. Teresa also asked me about the female roles in my scripts. She was, of course, very polite in her question (and let me off the hook with one of my female characters in particular), but she definitely cited a recurring complaint that’s been made about my work that my female characters tend to be little more than eye candy. I answered as best as I could here.

2) What’s the most idiotic question about your work anyone has asked you?
Well, hmmm…I suppose it may be a bit too harsh to call this question “idiotic,” but someone had asked me after my show Allston (which deals in part with race relations between a group of mildly/closeted racist white students and their Chinese neighbors), quite hotly, “Why did you feel it necessary to use the N-word?” The reason why I was a bit bemused at the question is because the characters in the play used many, many other racial and homophobic slurs, so I found it odd (to put it mildly) that she apparently had no problem with the slurs against gay men or Chinese people. To be fair, we met up a couple months later and she told me she had been thinking about the show since and caught on to what I was doing, and all was (mutually) forgiven.

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3) What’s the weirdest question about your work anyone has asked you?
“Are you getting naked in this one, James?” (asked, of course, with more than just a little bit of exasperation). Okay, so knowing Nosedive, I guess that’s not the weirdest question a person could ask. I just didn’t think it’d be a question I’d ever have to field. Sigh…

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Andrea Marie Smith and David Ian Lee in
Infectious Opportunity. Photo by Pete Boisvert.

4) Everything you’ve written has been directed by Pete Boisvert, right? What are the advantages of working with one director over the long-term?
Well, Pete hasn’t directed every play — many fine folks have directed my shorter works — but damn near: He’s directed every full-length play of mine produced to date. There are a bunch of advantages, most of which stem from the fact that we know each other well and get each other’s styles and sensibilities. If I give Pete a particularly oddball script, I don’t have to do too much explaining, since he’s pretty used to dealing with my writerly (and personal) quirks. I also know Pete knows what he’s doing, so I don’t feel like I need to “check in” with him regularly during rehearsals. I usually just show up towards the end of the rehearsal process to throw in my proverbial two cents.

5) Some might say you’re pushing your luck with Infectious Opportunity-a play about a screenwriter who has faked his HIV-positive status for 10 years. Has the time come for AIDS comedies? If so, why? Could a Swine Flu play be next?
Well, we shall see if I’ve pushed my luck when we open, won’t we? Who knows? Maybe I have. I should point out that, although I certainly think its funny, Infectious Opportunity isn’t an outright comedy. I don’t think it’s particularly glib or callous about its subject matter; then again, that’s really for the audience to decide. Even though there are definitely elements of this play that I suspect people may find shocking and horrifying, people who come expecting to see a carnie geek show will most likely be disappointed. Simply put, I found the story interesting to write, so I hope people find it interesting to watch. Having said that, I think South Park has shown us that the time is past due for more AIDS comedies. (Okay, I’m really pushing my luck now, aren’t I?)

Bonus Question:

6) What responsibility do playwrights have to prick the sensibilities of their audience? Or is it only about what the playwright wants to write?
I think ultimately, the playwright’s job is to write something that’s worth an audience’s time and attention. If a playwright is going to deal with prickly subject matters, which I’m all in favor of, he or she needs to take it seriously. That’s not to say they have to be serious dramas, but that they shouldn’t be written glibly or (on the flip side of the coin) timidly. I think it’s far more important for a play to be interesting than transgressive. If it can be both, great, but if it can be only one, I’d rather it be the former.

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