Interview with Joni Ravenna, playwright of "Beethoven and Misfortune Cookies"
Q: We don't normally ask playwrights about the origins of their scripts, but this one has an unusual genesis. It sprang from a kind of want ad, did it not?
A: Yes, Kabin Thomas, a musician and professor of music, came to the Orange County Playwrights Alliance looking to pay someone to write his story. He'd been fired under interesting circumstances from the University of Arkansas, and had even made an appearance on one of the late night talk shows. His story was fascinating.
Q: This is a play for one actor. As a playwright, did you take a different approach to writing this script, as opposed to a multi-character play? Were there certain things you wanted to do, and certain storytelling tendencies you wanted to guard against?
A: Originally, Kabin wanted to perform the play himself so we kept it to one-man. Once it was finished he felt it touched too close to home, I believe is what he said. He's a brilliant and talented man. He's also very sensitive. A one-man play is hard to sell, of course. I was worried that it wouldn't get any traction but we've been quite lucky. I'm thrilled to be a part of OC-Centric (for the third time). You guys do such great work!
Q: Did your own acting background and actor training guide you in the writing? You went through a superb theatre program yourself at USC. A: Yes, I was lucky to go through the conservatory program when USC was at the top of its game. Ally Sheedy, Eric Stoltz and Forest Whitaker were just a few of my classmates. Acting is really about reacting, so when you have no one to play against, it's tough. Luckily, the character has plenty of internal conflict. I also think that the music is like the second character in this play. Music is Kabin's first love.
Q: Music plays a key role in another play of yours, The Manager (which recently had some development at UC Irvine). Are you drawn to stories about music, musicians, and the music business?
A: I love music. I sang as a kid and I still play the piano for fun. Music has the ability to reach into our psyche and grab us in a way that nothing else can.
Q: Besides entertaining people, what else should a new play accomplish in 2019? Or does there necessarily have to be an "else"?
A: I don't think you should write a play unless you have something to say. Having said that, whatever it is you're saying, the message obviously can't be heavy-handed. Two of my favorite plays are Doubt and The Humans. I got to see The Humans on Broadway in 2016. It appeared deceptively simple. For me it showed the breaking down of society, of a marriage, a mother, a son, a house. And yet there was still young, innocent, un-jaded love trying to thrive in the midst of the decay. Every word was natural, and the play worked on so many levels. But you really couldn't fully appreciate its importance until afterward when you teased out its meaning over coffee. In Doubt, we have two truths. 1) There are priests whom we entrust with our children who commit the gravest sin of all. 2) And there are innocent, selfless priests who carry the specter of this doubt, however unfair that is. You grapple with those two truths, and after that play I fought with others about whether the priest in the play was guilty or innocent. I got to meet John Patrick Shanley recently at a playwriting symposium. I asked him how he was able to pull that off. He said that he knew priests like that. He wouldn't say whether the priest was guilty or innocent. Great plays let us take away our own truth.
Joni Ravenna's Beethoven and Misfortune Cookies plays at OC-Centric from August 15-25. For tickets, purchase online HERE or call 714-902-5716.
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