An Exclusive interview By:  Iride Aparicio

SAN FRANCISCO, CA-- Professionally,  Carey Perloff  is a director, an award-winning playwright, a producer , an educator and a  book author  who this month  (March 2022) published  PINTER AND STOPPARD A DIRECTOR'S VIEW, a book revealing her experience working, in the rehearsal process as play director,  with two master  playwrights:  Sir Tomas Straussler Stoppard, who she met while she staged the premiere of his play the  Indian Ink at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York,  (Which was Nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award as Best Revival) and produced, later, when Perloff was  the Artistic Director of A.C.T. in San Francisco. in 2003, and her decades collaborating  with English playwright Harold Pinter, who his play The Caretaker (l960) established him as more than another practitioner of the Theatre of the Absurd, who Perloff  also met in New York when as the artistic  director of  the Classic Stage Company, she directed his American premiere  of his play Mountain Language. In a telephone interview from Seattle where she is directing Ibsen's play Ghosts; she introduces herself to the readership of Cultural World Bilingual by saying:

"I am Carey Perloff.  I am a Director, Playwright, book author and teacher and for my own career, I am also a "theater-maker," which means that I have been investigating International Theater during my whole career. I was the Artistic Director of the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in San Francisco for twenty-five years, and before, I worked with the Classic Stage Company in New York. In both cases, what most excited me, was working with a rigorous and cultural diverse material with an ensemble of actors creating a real community, rather than using the non-profit theater as a lunch pad for a commercial run. I went to Stanford to study archeology and ended up in Ancient Greek Drama. I think that drama is the essence of democracy and that it is in drama that the culture could reflect upon itself."

"Working as a director, I had the privilege, for many years, to work with the two greatest playwrights in the English-Speaking language: One was Tom Stoppard and the other one was Harold Pinter. I believe that both of them have a global reach, a vigorous sense of language, an incredible sense of humor and real Theatricality, and that you can only see their plays on stage because their plays invite you to seeing them with your imagination."

C.W.B. What prompted you to write your new book, Carey?
C.P. "One reason was the COVID. When everything was shut down and I couldn't make live theater anymore, I decided to collect thirty years of documents and notes that I had about these two writers and write a book about it. I had other publications before. One was a play that was published by City Lights in San Francisco, and another play that was published in France, but this is really my second book: A full-length non-fiction book. "

"Another reason why I wrote it, was that I knew that people get really intimidated about Pinter because they have read many academic things about Pinter's plays which consider them poetic, symbolic, and difficult. But the reason for writing the book was that I had the great privilege to have been in rehearsals with both Pinter and Stoppard.

Cary's book.jpg

C.W.B. For those who may be unfamiliar with your chosen playwrights, Carey, Could you tell us something about them?

C.P. "I will start with Pinter. Harold Pinter. He is a great artist who emerged in England after the war. And one of the truths, (about him) I explained in the book is how important his Jewish heritage is for him, because he grew up in the East end of London during the Blitz (The intense bombing campaign on London During WWII). and that because of it, he was sent away (by his parents) to protect him. But as most children do, he missed his parents so much that he went back to London were growing up, he was rejected by the English. (for being Jewish).

"Pinter never went to a college or to a university, but at 17 he became a Shakespearean actor and acted in many Shakespeare's plays. He was incredible in educating himself of his own, and a great lover of modernism, so, when he started writing plays what is unique and remarkable about them is that they read, like no other plays. You only need to read five lines of any of his plays, and you know it is Pinter's.  Why is that?" because they are very economical (in their dialogue) very poetic, very violent, very sexual and very funny. And usually, the action takes place in a single room. Pinter starts his plays in a room, with a closed door, with a character. And then, another character walks into the room and suddenly there is everything between them: Drama, sexuality terror, violence, love, debate. So, Because his plays are economical in their dialogue they seem simple, but they contain the whole world."

C.W.B. When did Pinter start writing his plays?

C.P. "In the late fifties and early sixties, and he really transformed what people thought it was drama in England. You have to remember that before Pinter the (English) dramas portrayed elegant people. The characters drank Martinis, smoke cigarettes, and said intelligent things to each other. Pinter brought the working classes, the poor, often the Jewish families, the people called ordinary people, (in England) to the stage. And that, I think is unique about Pinter. And, when I was working with Pinter's plays in New York, (as Director) I noticed that he loved his plays. That he believed that his characters were real people, with real needs and real desires, and real fears, and real hope,:"

C.W.B. What you just told me, Carey, brings me to another question. If he was trying to portray real people with real feelings with his characters, why is Pinter considered The most Accomplished Dramatist of the Theatre of the Absurd?

C.P. The term "Theatre of the Absurd" is not a useful name for Pinter's writing because he did not think his writing was "Absurd, " to him, his writing was realism, but it was poetic. It was real in a sense of somebody walking into a room and having no idea of what they (other people) are doing there. From his point of view, that was real because he had lived through the Nazi's period when Jewish families were having dinner and the Gestapo just walked in. Was that absurd or it was real? .Yes, it was absurd, but it was happening. So, what Pinter's depicts in his plays is very real to him. (It was the reality that he was experiencing)."

"The same thing happened to Stoppard. When he wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead where he uses examples from the Theatre of the Absurd because in his play, he has these two characters, who do not know what they are in this place, asking themselves "What are we suppose to do?"  But in this case what Stoppard saw is that most of us are not at the center of our stories. We are in the periphery, watching and wondering what are we supposed to be doing with our lives? "

Sir Thomas Stoppard and Director Carey Perloff
Sir Thomas Stoppard and Director Carey Perloff

C.W.B. What can you tell us about Stoppard whose original name was Thomas Straussler?

C.P. "That he was another playwright whose story is even more incredible that Pinter. Because he is actually the son of a Jewish Surgeon, and he was born Czechoslovakia (Now the Czech Republic) and when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, and his father volunteer in the war in the Pacific, he and his brothers and mother flee to Singapore, where they got into a ship bound for Australia which got derailed in India on its way. His father gets killed in the war, but they don't even know and two years later, growing up in India, he discovers that his father is dead. And that was one of the most heart-breaking things in his life. When I read Rosencrantz and Gilderstern are dead (Which she directed at A.C.T. ) there is an incredible moment in the play where Gilderstern character says "That's not death. Death is walking up the stage and never coming back. Now you see it, now you don't." I understood that was Stoppard talking about his father. " 

"So think of him, living in India, and learning English in India and then coming to England, when he was eight years old. In England, his mother married to a man who told him: you will never speak Scheck again and you may never say that you are Jewish again. So we can imagine how he must have felt as an eight year old, having to start his life all over again and growing up, not knowing who he really is. It was not until he was sixty and his mother died, that he began working on his Jewish background, He goes back to Czechoslovakia and meets his relatives. It was then, that he begins to reckon with his own past."

" I believe that one reason why he and I had such a bond is that my mother was a Viennese refugee and we really understood each other. He and I came from similar backgrounds and have similar values. I always felt incredibly sympathetic to him and moved by his story. So, to end our interview, I could say that both Pinter and Stoppard are great thinkers who saw what we all see, but what they did (With their plays) was bring us closer to reality."

Carey Perloff's new book "Pinter and Stoppard A Directors View" can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bloomsbury and other stores.