CATF: What’s really “wrecked” in this play?
Greg Kalleres: The original title was Hit and Run, because that was the literal idea of the play – that we do things and then keep running until we forget that we did them. How far can we get before we forget? That title seemed to be giving away a lot, so I went with Wrecked. It’s about a dysfunctional relationship running into a functional relationship and revealing both of them.
The character, Victoria, says in this play, “There is nothing scarier in this world than being with someone and feeling alone.”
Victoria and John have created a sort of bubble that they live in with rules and strictures, so they will never feel alone, because they are obviously terrified of feeling alone.
We do so many things in relationships to make sure we never feel scared. We have stories we share, words we use, and furniture that we buy together. The world we create with another person is a protective bubble from the rest of the world. We’re terrified of feeling alone.
You’ve said that, “it’s best when you write something that scares you.” Did your fear of feeling alone scare you into writing Wrecked?
I’m always scared that I’m experiencing a different relationship than my wife is experiencing. It’s a scary thing to think, “I’m not getting it. We’re in love, but are we in love in the same way? Does she see things the way I see them? Am I lying to myself about certain things?”
The reason I got married to this woman in particular, is because I do feel aligned with her. I do feel an alliance. We get each other. But I’ve been in relationships when I’ve felt alone all the time and thought, “This person doesn’t understand me, and I don’t understand this person. I want to, but I don’t and I feel lonelier and lonelier.” That loneliness, that waking up one day and not recognizing that person, scares the hell out of me.
Of course you can feel lonely in a relationship, but hopefully at these moments, like in the play, you can recalibrate – meet up again at a certain point. We all go off and grow a little bit, but you come back together.
At one point in your play, John says: “If you really want it to work, it doesn’t matter what story you choose to believe, as long as you both believe in the same story.”
That’s not good. That’s Wrecked – the title of the play. John and Victoria are dysfunctionally functional. They are desperately holding onto each other so nothing can rock them. They almost don’t have their own identities. They are more terrified of being alone without each other.
Is there a lot of talking in your marriage?
I do all the talking. I work from home with my dog, and my wife has a high-powered job. When she comes home, I’m like a puppy. I want to talk because I haven’t for 7-8 hours. During the first two years of our marriage, I had to learn not to bombard her with conversation for the first hour after she gets home from work. She does not like talking about her job. She calls me her “escape” from her job. There’s always that push and pull about what each person needs from the other.
I’m definitely the emotional one, full of self-analysis. She’s like, “Why do I want to do a lot of self-analysis?” I would just get depressed. I have enough problems.” And I respond, “Because an unexamined life is not a life worth living,” and so on.
I know you admire Edward Albee who said, “If you have no wounds, how can you know if you’re alive?”
It makes sense that Albee would say that. Art, to me, is often healing, but it’s individual. Everyone’s wounds are different. You might have self-imposed wounds. Or you’ll be around someone and think, “Man, that person has really suffered, and I haven’t suffered at all. How can I write? What am I healing?” You’re healing whatever you think needs to be fixed. You’re often writing to know yourself over and over again without realizing it. You had a bad childhood, so you find yourself writing about your childhood. Only the individual artist can know what that wound is, and you usually don’t know until you start writing about it.
Explain the role of the giraffe in this play.
Victoria has this home that she curates, that she knows everything about, that she understands, that has all these things that she can count on. She and John went to Africa and had this experience together, and that experience, represented by the giraffe, is now in their living room.
The giraffe is an inanimate object that for some reason helps Victoria and John feel whole and ends up being defiled throughout the play. There’s a drink on it, it’s got an ashtray in it, and by the end, one of the characters is actually sodomizing it. Theatrically, I love that there’s this animal we keep talking about: “Did we hit an animal? Did we hit a deer? Did we hit a dog? Did we hit a fox?” . . . and then there’s this giraffe sitting there staring at everyone.
I read that you wrote your first play when you were ten years old. How did you end up in advertising and then the theater?
I went to Indiana University for two years for screenwriting, but there was no screenwriting program at Indiana U, so I started taking a class in textiles because it was slightly creative. I transferred to NYU Tisch School of the Arts where I discovered that I enjoyed writing more for theater than for film because dialogue, character, and ideas were things that really interested me. Everything I started writing found a much more natural place on stage than it did on screen. I also thought theater was just a natural art form. You write it and you do it. It was very direct. What I write, I’m going to see on stage. It’s such a clean art form to me.
I wrote a few plays and screenplays and, while temping, stumbled into advertising as a creative assistant to some big wig at an agency called Wieden + Kennedy. I was a horrible assistant, but my boss liked me a lot. I wanted to quit after three months so I could write a play. My boss asked me to think about becoming a copywriter. At the time, my Dad had cancer and I didn’t want him to worry that I wasn’t making any money, so I became a copywriter. Within a year, I was writing ESPN Sports Center and Nike ads, and within three years, I was senior copywriter.
Ernest Hemingway said that a writer should not “exhaust the fuel tank in one writing session,” so that it’s easier to start again the next day.
I used to think about how much time I was spending on my writing because I didn’t want to bust the instrument. But I don’t think that anymore, which I learned when I was writing advertising, because when you are doing advertising you are constantly busting your instrument. You’ll be at work for 10-13 hours a day and then on weekends, you would work on plays.
Now, if I’m writing and work is happening, I’m doing it. I’m not going to parse it out. I’m just happy to get stuff on paper. I don’t worry about overwriting. I worry about underwriting.
In Chester Bailey, another play in CATF’s 2019 repertoire, the character Dr. Cotton makes this observation about his patient, Chester Bailey, to his father: “Your son, Mr. Bailey, is the author of his own mercy. He stitched it together out of what was around him. Just like the rest of us.”
How have you been the author of your own mercy?
Those are beautiful lines. When I am writing, I am doing two things: I am castigating myself, and then I am forgiving myself. I start a play from self-loathing – things I hate about myself or wish I could change or things I don’t understand – then by the end, I’ve come to an understanding that allows me a way to move forward.
That’s what Wrecked is about. How do we forgive ourselves or give ourselves a way to move forward? There’s so much pain and misery in the world. There’s so much we do that we don’t like. How do we keep living? Every day, you have to give yourself a break. You do it either through denial or through love – through moments of happiness. You allow yourself to have these moments, these mercies, because otherwise you wouldn’t get out of bed.