Hi Mart, welcome back to London! I am a reviewer and writer for London Pub Theatres Magazine. I will be reviewing For Reasons That Remain Unclear at the end of the month. I first read the script over a decade ago and look forward to finally seeing it on stage.
So, I have a few questions for you…
Your 1993 play For Reasons That Remain Unclear will receive its European premiere at the King’s Head Theatre. How did the production come about?
Mart Crowley: After the success of The Boys in the Band last year, the King’s Head Theatre were interested in bringing another of my plays to London. I suggested For Reasons That Remain Unclear… which is essentially a two-hander, told in real-time, and is really well suited to an intimate space like the King’s Head. Adam (Adam Spreadbury-Maher, Artistic Director) really liked the play and wanted to give it it’s European Premiere as part of their season of Queer work.
Why has it taken so long to be produced in London?
It’s not very well known in the UK and when it was first written I don’t think the subject matter necessarily applied to the UK; the play was written before the Catholic Church scandal broke internationally. I think it’s a lot more relevant now in the wake of the #MeToo Movement and the continued revelations about abuse in the Catholic Church over the past 20 years.
How was the play received when it was first performed in the US?
It received mixed reviews, it’s fair to say. Oddly enough the best review it got was from the right wing Washington Times whilst the liberal, left-leaning Washington Post were a lot less sympathetic. It was performed at a tiny theatre in Maryland which was essentially a barn and I remember in the parking lot, after a show, a woman walking up to me dressed in a Chanel suit. She asked me if I was Mart Crowley, the playwright… I said I was and she just spat on the ground in front of me. I think it was a little too early and now is the perfect time for another go.
Catholicism is a strong feature of your work. It is one of the defining aspects of Michael, who appears in three of your plays. In For Reasons That Remain Unclear you explore the fallout from sexual abuse in Catholic schools. How would you describe the role of Catholicism and Catholic institutions in your work?
I’m from an Irish Catholic family so the traditions of Catholicism are just part of my background. I went to Catholic school and my father would only let me go on to a theatre school if it was a Catholic Theatre school. So I found myself at the Catholic University of America, which was a very good school at the time. A lot of people from there - including Susan Sarandon - went on to become very reputable actors, directors and writers.
It could be argued that the Catholic Church and society in general is more willing to accept the existence of abuse in its institutions. Things have changed in the 25 years since the play was written. How do you think audiences will react to the play in the current climate?
It will be very interesting to find out! I hope that they react now how I wanted them to react 25 years ago. I didn’t realise there would be such indignation or revulsion about the piece when I first wrote it; people denied the content was plausible and called the play preposterous and insulting. Since then there have been very successful plays exploring similar subject matter such as Doubt which played on Broadway with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour-Hoffman.
For Reasons That Remain Unclear will be directed by Jessica Lazar. She directed an astonishing revival of Steven Berkoff’s East at the King’s Head earlier this year. LPT magazine were not alone in giving it a five star review. What are you hoping Jessica will bring to this production?
I hope Jessica isn’t lambasted for her excellent work. I spoke to her at length about the play on the phone and she seems very attuned to both the dramatic content and the humour of the piece. She’s the first female director to have taken on this play, which is in part about male aggression, which I think is going to produce very interesting results. We got along terrifically when we spoke and I think she has some fantastic ideas!
You have several other plays that have not yet been performed in the UK or haven’t been revived for a long time. Which other play of yours would you like to see staged in London?
I’d always like to see my own work done more. The Boys in the Band has been produced three times in the West End so it’s wonderful to see something different being staged.
A play of yours I would love to see produced in London is The Men from the Boys (2002). Is there any chance of this excellent later work of yours coming to London any time soon?
Not to my knowledge!
After the successful revival of The Boys in the Band produced by the King’s Head in 2016, you are again working with one of London’s oldest and most respected pub theatres. What do you think about the London pub theatre scene and how does it compare to fringe/off-Broadway in the US?
It’ll be interesting for me to find out as I’ve not had much experience of the London Pub Theatre scene over the past twenty years. Breeze From The Gulf was produced at The Man on the Moon theatre over 20 years ago and The Boys in the Band was actually staged at the King’s Head in 1996 before moving to the Aldwych Theatre in the West End. I’ve always had a great respect for the King’s Head Theatre and had terrific luck there too. I was delighted when I found out they were going to be doing this at such at an exciting time for the venue as they prepare to move into their new space.
In an interview with you that I heard years ago there were many fascinating stories about your life before you became famous as a writer. This included being a driver for Marlon Brando and Tennessee Williams. You were also very good friends with Natalie Wood. All of this is in addition to the phenomenal story of your landmark play The Boys in the Band. Have you written your memoirs, or does this not appeal to you?
It doesn’t appeal to me at all [laughs]. People suggest that to me constantly but I can’t think that writing up the stories of being a production assistant after leaving college will be of any interest to today’s audience. I wasn’t an important figure and didn’t have much to contribute at the time. It was quite a starry period of my life and I was pretty much in awe of everybody I worked with.
Final question. What are you working on now? Anything new for the stage?
I am gleefully unemployed for once in my life. It used to cause me a lot of anxiety; worrying about whether I’d get another job or another idea but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve written enough stuff that’s been staged and published that if I live long enough to see more of my work produced that will do me just fine.
Thanks for answering the questions Mart. I look forward to seeing the play. I am sure you have heard it all a thousand times before, but thanks for the plays and the inspiration you’ve been to the LGBT community and playwrights that came after you!
FOR REASONS THAT REMAIN UNCLEAR
European premiere at the King’s Head
25th July – 25th August 2018
A thrilling comedy-drama of sex, power and secrets.
Handsome Hollywood screenwriter Patrick invites Conrad back to his hotel room on a balmy evening in Rome. As the whisky flows and the conversation becomes ever more intimate, both men start to wonder just where the night might be heading…
With humour, sensitivity and scintillating tension, this brand new production from the director of Atticist’s acclaimed revival of Steven Berkoff’s East and the writer of The Boys in the Band is guaranteed to set your pulse racing.
@July 2018 Andy Curtis, London Pub Theatres Magazine
All Rights Reserved
Mart Crowley studied at The Catholic University of America and became famous for his ground-breaking play The Boys in the Band (1968), which is often credited as the first play to focus on a group of gay men. He wrote a sequel, The Men from the Boys (2002), thirty years later which featured many of the same characters as they entered middle age, as well as a new generation of gay men. His other plays include Remote Asylum (1970) and Breeze from the Gulf (1973). He was script editor and later producer on the TV series Hart to Hart. The Boys from the Band was successfully revived at the Park Theatre (co-produced by the King’s Head) in 2016.