A Closer Look: Nick Gandiello
Take "A Closer Look" at the stories being told in this year's Playwrights' Week festival with this series of interviews, of the playwrights and by the playwrights! Next up, Benjamin Benne (at the very bottom of a body of water) talks with Nick Gandiello (pictured left) about his new play, The Blameless.
BENJAMIN BENNE: When I enter a play, I can't help but feel like I'm entering a portal into a different world. Sometimes, an environment that I'm exploring can be familiar or foreign or both. Can you tell me about what draws you into a world or environment and beckons you to write about it? Did the world of The Blameless feel familiar or foreign when you first entered it?
NICK GANDIELLO: I think I often start with a subject that really disturbs me, then wait to find a story with a dilemma that confronts that subject. The environment seems to emerge around that: how does the setting best serve the situation? For The Blameless, it was obvious to me early on that this was a pivotal meeting between two sides of the same traumatic event. A private environment felt best for that, and particularly one with reminders of the trauma all around. But also with reminders of the love that has helped the family survive. This is a winding way of getting around to: the world of The Blameless is familiar to me, as it is modeled on several homes I've lived in or observed, but I've injected in a situation that is disturbingly unfamiliar to me. The tension between what is familiar and what is foreign is something that I think drives a lot of the drama in the play.
BB: You've written a play that occurs seamlessly without any breaks in the action (with one deft exception). When writing in this form, it can be challenging to maintain momentum. Did you begin your writing process with the intention of telling the bulk of the story over the course of a single evening?
NG: When the idea first struck me, I knew I wanted it to take place in real time in one scene. That was partly a reaction against my previous play, which had 11 scenes, which comes with its own opportunities and its own frustrations. But also, it just feels right for a play that is in large part about the anticipation of someone's arrival. From there, I added in some intentional homage to those "someone's coming to dinner!" farces. At some insecure points in the process, I insisted to myself that the play had to be broken up into scenes over a longer period, and in various settings. I think that was an urge to resist the hard work of maintaining the momentum, as you say - and also resisting the vulnerability of the characters really dwelling in this terribly difficult evening for them.
BB: There's a thread in your play of how a family uses technology to communicate. Diana describes the use of her husband's "passive aggressive likes" on Facebook as well as the desire to remove herself from a group text with her sister-in-law. But Diana and the family also come together to sync their calendars, which feels like a modern riff on a family meeting. How does technology play a role in the family dynamic?
NG: I can't say I had any deep intentions in keeping the Garcias on their devices. At first, I think it came from observing contemporary families: we often are in group messages together, or making group events on Facebook to keep in touch, things like that. But as I worked on the play with actors, it became apparent that the group messages are a way that the Garcias formed a support network for each other. After the horrible loss they've endured, setting their calendars together is like an unspoken promise: there will be a future, and we will be there together.
BB: Despite the fact they're grieving, the Garcia family is vibrant and lively. I've found in the writing process that no matter how well I think I know my characters, something they do or say surprises me. Did you have any unexpected moments like that when writing The Blameless?
NG: Sure! One of the more surprising things was the family itself needed less internal conflict than I had originally imagined. The situation they are in applies so much pressure, and the events of the evening give them so much to struggle against, that adding dilemmas in each relationship felt like overstuffing. I had intended there to be big family secrets revealed and for long-standing resentments to explode. But once I got into the heart of the play, I realized those would actually detract from what I love about this family, and that's that they are truly good and loyal to each other in the face of the worst pain.
BB: You mentioned the decision to write this play in a single scene was partly a reaction to having previously written a play with multiple scenes. Were the aspects of farce in this play something new that you were experimenting with as well? Are there any other aspects of this play that felt like a significant departure from your previous work?
NG: The farcical elements were totally new to me. Most of my plays have had funny or humorous moments, but The Blameless is the first that I'd describe as comedic. When I tell the premise to people, I'm usually quick to follow up with "but it's a comedy!" to which I often get "...how?" I knew early on that I wanted it to be comedic in form. That was partly to fend off my own tendencies toward the maudlin and the morbid, but it was also to balance the tragedy with entertainment and fun. We have to want to watch the thing! But, besides style and form, there's more light and more hope in this play than any of my others. That's because there was more light and more hope in me when I started writing it. One of my mentors and professors in grad school, Laura Maria Censabella, told us not to write a play in which love saves the day until we truly believed that love could save the day. I don't think the Garcias' love for each other can erase their pain, but the love may become stronger for it. And their pain doesn't stop them from being good to each other. That - for whatever reasons - is a departure for me.