Monday, November 06, 2006

Driving Alfred Uhry

Driving Alfred Uhry

In the second in a terrific series of conversations with renowned playwrights during the inaugural season at its new facility, Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater hosted Alfred Uhry this evening.

If his name doesn't quickly register, surely his award-winning productions would: Driving Miss Daisy (the stage version won him a Pulitzer in 1987 while the Best Picture incarnation landed him with an Oscar 1990), The Last Night Of Ballyhoo (which won him a Tony for Best Play in 1997) and Parade (which won him both a Tony and Drama Desk Award for Best Book of a Musical in 1999).

Uhry is at the Guthrie in conjunction with the "debut" of his reworked Edgardo Mine, which opens later this week. While most of the conversation focused squarely on that production -- based on the true story of a young Jewish boy in 19th Century Italy whose Christian baptism resulted in a battle between the his parents and the Catholic Church -- there were several opportunities for this distinguished gentleman to talk candidly about his own experiences not only as a Jewish father, but also as an award-winning writer.

On the latter point, when asked what advice he had for a budding playwright, he implored the questioner to pray. "There are a lot of lean years," Urhy said, dryly. "You do pray. If you love it, keep at it, and if you're lucky, you'll find something else."

On a question of why his Pulitzer Prize-winning Driving Miss Daisy never landed on the Great White Way, Uhry noted, "It was Off-Broadway for three years and you don't move a hit. I don't really care (that it never played Broadway)."

On theatre itself, Uhry waxed poetic: "A play's only words. You need actors to act them....A play is to be seen, not to be read. There's something about a play that's electric....It's absolutely magic."


I've always been impressed with Uhry's deft touch on each of his shows I've seen. After listening to his take on Edgardo Mine, I'm looking forward to seeing his play, which by the sound of it has been written with an immense degree of deliberation and thought. Although he ultimately noted that "It's not a philosophical discussion -- it's a play," Alfred Uhry appears to be striving for much more as evidenced by his acknowledgement that "if we could sit here in 150 years and have Muslims sitting with us saying, 'Look how far we've come,' that would be wonderful."

As an interesting postscript, when Uhry was introduced, it was also mentioned that he's written the book for a musical called Love Musik that's about to enjoy a "premiere on Broadway in early 2007." I'll do some investigating on this point since it's the first I've heard of any additional musical likely for the current season.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for Edgardo Mine tickets.
Related Stories:
A Great Game Of Simon Says (October 9, 2006)

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At 07 November, 2006, Blogger BroadwayBaby said...

I have never understood why Alfred Uhry was considered a "great" playwright. "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Last Night at Ballyhoo", to name just two, were perfectly good movie-of-the-week scripts. His book for "Parade" was fine but not great. How can anybody compare someone like Uhry to other Pulitzer- prize winning playwrights that actually delve deep into the human psyche and tell original stories. How can anybody compare Uhry to the likes of Susan Lori-Parks, Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, to name just a few worthy Pulitzer prize recipients.

At 07 November, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks for sharing, although I can't say I agree. There is something to be said for telling a story in a subtle fashion while still exposing the human condition.

Many of Uhry's works expose the unseemly underbelly of anti-Semitism without being incendiary or vulgar. I was much more moved by "Driving Miss Daisy" when I saw it on the stage than I was in the movie theatre. And I believe "Parade" was a surprisingly touching musical centering on issues that Uhry, as a southern Jew, may have witnessed.

In person, I was struck by how thoughtful, and even thought-provoking, Alfred Uhry truly is.

While I have not yet seen it, Edgardo Mine appears to be mining material that on its face provides a modern-day allegory to the perceived struggle between the Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions.

If it advances the discussion by appealing to a wide audience (much wider I would argue than at least a couple of the playwrights you've mentioned), then I think he'll have achieved success.


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