5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Kate Moira Ryan


What’s in a title? Everything, you say? Fair enough: A title is the first, last and most memorable marketing cue in the theater. The Crucible, for example, is a good title, a terrific title, in fact, that tells you just what the play is about. But Mommie Queerest? That really tells you what the play is about.

Photo: Dixie Sheridan

Kate Moira Ryan wrote Mommie Queerest in tandem with Judy Gold; their subsequent collaboration, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, enjoyed a healthy Off-Broadway run and surpassed Passover as the Jewish Event Involving the Most Questions. Other Ryan plays include The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, based on Ann Bannon’s 1950s pulp novels, written with Linda S. Chapman; and Cavedweller, produced by Hourglass Group at the Fourth Street Theatre prior to a commercial run at 37 Arts. Neat titles all.

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Now Ryan has penned another play — I would argue that the title, Bass for Picasso, offers a sheen of illusion: Is it bass as in music, bass as in fish? Isn’t Picasso dead? And, in any event, isn’t it true that Picasso’s voice more baritone?

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The play, produced by Off-Broadway’s Theater Breaking Through Barriers, which integrates actors with artists with disabilities, and takes place at a dinner party for five atypical — archetypal might be more accurate — New Yorkers. One, for example, is a physically disabled food writer for the New York Times (the character is an amputee). Said character is throwing the party, with recipes being recreated from the legendary Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. As for whether that includes those yummy brownies — well, you really will have to see the play.

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Four guests are coming to the party: the food writer’s lesbian lover, a “multilingual art detective…who has spent time in Guantanamo for visa problems”; “a lesbian widow with a small child and Republican in-laws trying to gain custody”; an “OB/GYN whose lover is a geographically challenged crystal meth addict”; and a “playwright who has recently fallen off the wagon and written a soon-to-open Off-Broadway play about all of them.” See it, been there, done that? Not really. Hence why Bass for Picasso should be very interesting.

Ike Schambelan directs.

Bass for Picasso is currently running through May 23 at the Kirk Theatre (410 W. 42nd St.). For more information and tickets, call 212-279-4200 or click here.

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And now, 5 questions Kate Moira Ryan has never been asked — and a bonus question:

1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Well, during the three years Judy Gold was on tour with 25 Questions for a Jewish mother, I was asked this many times and I always found it incredibly perceptive: “Ah, excuse me — with a name like Kate Moira Ryan, why are you working on a Jewish play?”

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2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
It was at a talk-back for Cavedweller, my adaptation of Dorothy Allison’s novel at New York Theater Workshop. A young woman raised her hand and sneered, “Why did you write this?” I was exhausted and the reviews weren’t that great so instead of saying all the true stuff, like “I loved the material, I loved working with Michael Grief,” I said something I thought would piss her off instead: “I wrote this because they paid me a million dollars.”

3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Someone Facebooked me and asked me if I had named one of my characters after her late sister and if I had met her. I replied no, but to be honest my 20s were what I deem my lost years, I might have met her and don’t remember.

4) Bass for Picasso takes place at a dinner party with panoply of individuals representing critical demographic — political, sexual and social. As a writer, why would the gathering of an amputee New York Times food writer, a lesbian widow, and a male gay OB/GYN, among others, seem believable? What’s the difference between believable and funny?
Well, in my wacky gay world, men and women dine together. Many of my friends are quite accomplished in their respective fields, so it’s believable to me to have a mix of fun, interesting people around me and have my dinner parties get a bit wild. My friend Barbara Howard says it’s probably good that my 10-year-old son goes to such a traditional school because, as she says, “You never know who is going to show up for dinner at your house.” And truth be told, I am not traditional, even as a lesbian mom. I spend weeks on the road, and it’s not unusual for me to pick up my son in a Brokeback Mountain t-shirt with a Russian scholar I met in Moscow. I tell my son constantly to get an education so he can get a good job so he doesn’t wind up like me — writing jokes for a six-foot-three lesbian comic.

5) Some 54 million Americans deal with some sort of disability. Why is it so rare, then, for new plays to feature disabled characters? What would it take for American plays to get to a point where “groups” — this one’s disabled, this one’s gay, this one’s Jewish — to be less of a dramatic or comedic talking point? When will we all be just people?
You know, I grew up with a disabled mother so disability is totally normal for me. She had polio as a child. I used to hate walking home from school with her holding my arm to keep steady and having kids ask her, “Why is one leg shorter? Why do you limp? Why are legs covered in scars?” One day I said, “Mah, I am so sick of everyone asking about your leg.” And she said, “It’s very important to tell people the truth about disability. To be open about it.” And I said, “I understand that, but Mah, telling them an alligator at the zoo bit you is not the truth.”

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With Bass for Picasso, I wrote a character who was a person and not a disabled archetype. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not writing The Miracle Worker here.

Bonus Question:

6) I loved your previous piece with Judy Gold, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother. What would be the 26th question?
We know what the 26th question is and we’re working on it with New York Theater Workshop, which is my theatrical home. But it’s a bit of a secret. I’m Irish, so I’m a bit paranoid someone is going to steal our idea. I’ve got the “always after me lucky charms” syndrome. But, in the meantime, come and see our newest creation, It’s Jewdy’s Show at Provincetown this summer. And I am writing a play for Judy in mind as we speak or type.