Endless Violence, Moving to Austin, and People Who Like to Hear Themselves Talk
Brendan Kiley's interview with Playwright Steven Dietz
Capitol Hill Arts Center, 1621 12th Ave, 800-838-3006. $18–$35. Thurs–Sat at 7:30 pm. Sun at 2 pm, Mon at 7:30 pm, Wed at 7:30 pm. Through Feb 19.
God’s Country, by Steven Dietz, is documentary play about a Christian white supremacist group called the Order, which was active in Washington State in the mid-1980s. In an attempt to instigate a race war, the Order robbed armored cars, banks, and stores and murdered perceived enemies, including left-wing Jewish talk-radio DJ Alan Berg, whose death also inspired a play by Eric Bogosian and a movie by Oliver Stone. Most of the script is taken from transcripts of the Seattle trial of Order members in the early ’80s.
Steven Dietz wrote and directed God’s Country for ACT Theatre in 1988. It has since been produced all over the world and is being revived at Capitol Hill Arts Center. Mr. Dietz is a super-famous playwright who has won accolades from notable institutions like the Kennedy Center, Pen USA West, and the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shinbun.
ON THE RELEVANCE OF AN 18-YEAR-OLD SCRIPT ABOUT FAITH-BASED TERRORISM
When we did God’s Country in ’88, we thought we were doing a month-long production of something that would never be seen again. I’ve been asked over the years if I wanted to update the play after Oklahoma City, after Ruby Ridge, et cetera. Sadly, you could never update this play enough. These acts of violence, whether they’re organized or random, are unending. So I made a decision—let’s tell this Pacific Northwest story from 1983 to 1985 and let’s trust audiences to make the connection to the present.
ON REWRITING PARTS OF THE SCRIPT AFTER 18 YEARS
I’ve mainly made cuts. I tightened some of the narrative. I was working and my wife, who is also a writer, would look over my shoulder and say: “What the hell are you doing?” I said: “I guess I’m rewriting my most-produced play!”
So I made cuts and changes. I am very inspired with what [director] Sheila Daniels is doing with the play and frankly, for all I know, these are changes that 100 other directors wished I’d made. But I’ve finally done them.
ON MOVING TO AUSTIN AFTER 15 YEARS IN SEATTLE
I got offered a new senior playwriting position at the University of Texas at Austin. They approached me about it. I took a deep breath and took it with the proviso that we’d keep our house here in Seattle and still spend the summers up here in paradise. But yeah, it’s a sweet gig.
ON POST-PLAY DISCUSSIONS AFTER 25 YEARS AS A PLAYWRIGHT
I do find them useful and I’m probably the lone playwright voice in the wilderness. I just fucking dig ’em. Two things: If I’m going to send my actors up on stage for two hours, I can go onstage for 10 minutes. Secondly, we should be so lucky, with all that’s going on in the world, that somebody leaves their house, parks their car, and comes and sits in a theater. And then, and then, rather than just rush off to the bar and try to forget whatever they just saw, they want to sit there and talk about it.
Do people want to hear themselves talk? Sure. Do people want to rewrite your play? Sure. But for goodness sakes—you spend your life wondering: “Oh my plays are being done somewhere tonight. I wonder what people think?” It seems disingenuous when a playwright has a chance to know what people think and they don’t want to be there.
They can admittedly be completely painful to sit through. But if you work under the assumption that I do, that your play is never good enough, maybe you’ll learn something.
But, I don’t know, I probably wouldn’t have said that when I was 25. I’ve learned, maybe. Or just given in.