REED HOME Gryphon icon
Feature Story
reed magazine logoSpring 2009

The Way We Weren’t

Lee Blessing

Playwright Lee Blessing ’71 talks about social amnesia, the amorality of the eye, and his new play, A Body of Water

By Martin Rosenberg ’71

Last fall I spotted a review of a New York staging of A Body of Water, by Lee Blessing ’71, about a couple wrestling with memory loss and identity. I plunged into my memories of Reed, where Lee and I were classmates. We both studied literature, bound for careers as writers. Which classes did we share? Surely we were in the same year-long seminar that wrestled with a shelf of Shakespeare? Did we ever joust over Hotspur or Richard III, the hunchbacked toad? Or did we sit at opposite ends of that long table, barely aware of each other? Did we both ride professor Howard Waskow’s raft down the river of American fiction?

Since our time together at Reed, we moved in different directions. Lee, now 59, became a playwright. He has penned more than two dozen works, been nominated for a Tony and a Pulitzer, and heads the graduate playwriting program at Rutgers. I became a journalist, working for newspapers in Oregon and Missouri, and now run a business magazine.

Several weeks after reading that review, I found myself in New York on assignment. On impulse, my wife and I darted from a cold rainy night into a cozy theater on East 59th Street and purchased up-front seats for A Body of Water.

The set was a front room backed by a luminous lake. Two lead characters, ostensibly husband and wife, struggle to construct a sense of who they are, lacking any memory of who they were. Their daughter, alternately concerned and exasperated, helps move things along.

Afterwards, I emailed Lee and arranged a telephone interview. Our conversation, edited for space and clarity, follows.

ROSENBERG: Let’s discuss the role of theater and the printed word in America today, compared to the past. Someone sitting in the audience at one of your plays is likely to have an iPod and regularly surf the Internet. Modern communications are strikingly different from the age of Shakespeare or even from the time when we attended Reed.

BLESSING: I have no idea. I really don’t know that much about the Internet and a lot of contemporary modes of communication. When you write a play, you’re writing for a three-dimensional experience. It’s immediate, in the moment, all in the same day. That tends to be what storytellers and writers and dramatists have traditionally done. It’s a much hotter medium than a lot of the media that has cropped up in the last hundred years, particularly the last couple of decades.

ROSENBERG: Have you written for TV and film?


ROSENBERG: Which format appeals to you the most?

BLESSING: I most naturally write for the stage. As you branch out and write for film or television, the rules are different and the expectations of the audience are different. How you try to communicate with them is also very different. For example, if you’re writing serious television the whole thing is an unending continuum, an unending consistency of experience. The stage is all about coming to a culmination within the fixed period of time.

reed magazine logoSpring 2009