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Feature Story
reed magazine logoSpring 2009

ROSENBERG: What about the impact of film?

BLESSING: Film is two-dimensional. People aren’t really there. It’s cool. It is primarily for the eye, rather than the ear. A play really lives on its dialogue. It’s about content. It’s about our sitting there and weighing what these characters say and the choices we hear them make in their dialogue. With film, we’re watching people do things. The eye moves around. With a play, our view of the stage never changes. It’s the characters that move. It’s what the characters say that changes. When you have a medium based on what the eye does, you have an amoral medium, because the eye is amoral. The eye will watch anything that moves, or glistens, or glitters, or pulsates. It won’t make a judgment about whether a thing is good or bad, or good for you or bad for you. When you see people talk and hear what people say, you are always automatically judging whether what they’re saying is just or not, useful or not, helpful or not, good or bad.

ROSENBERG: I understand that the University of Texas at Austin has the Lee Blessing papers. What’s there?

Lee Blessing

BLESSING: I have given them all sorts of things. I live in small spaces in New York. Every time I move, I realize that there’s something else that I can’t store. So I just send them boxes of things.

ROSENBERG: How did you become a writer?

BLESSING: I started writing stories, and then I fairly quickly got into writing poetry. I did a poetry thesis at Reed. Then, I went to the University of Iowa writers’ workshop as a poet. I started writing plays in the very end of high school and a little bit as an undergrad.

ROSENBERG: What was your first high school play about?

BLESSING: The first time I wrote a play it was to get out of writing a paper in high school. I ended up writing a paper that no longer exists. The second play, when I was at the University of Minnesota as a freshman, was about my brother’s death in a car accident.

ROSENBERG: Who were some of the professors at Reed who had the most impact on you?

BLESSING: Robert Peterson, who taught creative writing and Kenneth O. Hansen, the poet. Roger Porter directed me in the production of Endgame with Eric Overmyer. There were some pretty good people there.

ROSENBERG: Let’s talk about your play, A Body of Water.

BLESSING: The play actually was written in 2004. It had its first production at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in 2005. I wrote the first two scenes fairly quickly. Scenes 3, 4, and 5 were revised numerous times. I think scene 5 was revised perhaps 15 times over the years.

ROSENBERG: How do you know when a play is done?

BLESSING: I have a real simple rule. Whenever a play is published, I’m done working on it.

ROSENBERG: So when Charles Isherwood wrote in the New York Times, “…you have to conclude that Mr. Blessing himself has not satisfactorily worked out its meaning,” your response would be…

BLESSING: Oh, you don’t have to quote a review to me. I don’t read the reviews. I stopped reading reviews a long time ago.

ROSENBERG: Your play is about the importance of memory to our sense of who we are. Some of the subterfuges your characters engage in to mask their memory loss reminded me, poignantly, of loved ones who had suffered from Alzheimer’s.

BLESSING: Certainly the temptation, when people encounter this play, is to think a lot about Alzheimer’s. It’s obviously a very powerful issue for us these days. But also metaphorically it’s an interesting issue. We as a society worry that we’re losing our memory of what holds us together.

ROSENBERG: What about the importance of your own biography and memories in your dramas?

BLESSING: They’re all personal, psychological, and emotional. You can trace your own development. Sometimes I’m very explicit about that. I have a play in which I’m actually a character, a playwright trying to write the play. That was fun.


reed magazine logoSpring 2009