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reed magazine logoSpring 2009

ROSENBERG: Are you concerned that Americans are becoming less literate?

BLESSING: Yes. It goes back to what I was saying about the eye and the ear. We are just as smart as always. But we communicate much more with images than with words, compared to the past. You look at them and they’re photographically real and indisputable. You can analyze words. But you can’t analyze images in the same way. They simply work on a basic level in the psyche. They signal directly to your emotions. It is far easier to be very imprecise in terms of meaning. I suppose it’s a little like the stock market. Moral responsibility gets spread universally. So in a way, nobody’s responsible anymore. There are a lot of dangers attached to a society becoming less literate.

ROSENBERG: We’re about four decades removed from Reed. What is the value today of the kind of liberal arts education that we received at Reed?

BLESSING: It’s invaluable. Sadly, it’s getting to be more and more exclusive. Fewer people are getting that education any longer. Living in the East for as long as I have, I see lots of people devoted to the notion that their education has to be of service to a particular pragmatic game plan for their lives. They lose what I’ve always thought was the most essential aspect of the liberal arts. It’s something to study not because it might have any practical application in your life, but because your soul needs it.

ROSENBERG: So what was it like to work with Academy Award-winning actress Christine Lahti? She really masters her role as Avis, the wife who along with her husband, have forgotten who they are—and each other.

BLESSING: Christine was terrific. She was a revelation. I always loved her acting. She took this role at the last minute. She was the easiest person in the world to work with. She’s a very technically proficient actress, a good strong worker.

ROSENBERG: Do you often collaborate with an actor who is attempting to flesh out one of your roles?

BLESSING: It’s very important. I’ve worked with the director Maria Mileaf, before at the Primary Stages in New York. She’s very happy to have me, especially in the first two weeks of rehearsal, talking about interpretation. There’s so little rehearsal time in the schedule now. You have to sit down with everybody and read through the script with them and just kind of talk through comments right away.

ROSENBERG: You wrote a play, A Walk in the Woods, about two arms limitation negotiators. Where do you get an idea like that from?

BLESSING: That was in 1985. Critics were complaining a great deal that American playwrights were only writing family plays, domestic plays, that weren’t really connected to politics. So I looked at the first page of the Times to see what’s on people minds. People were very nervous about missiles and there was all this stuff about nuclear negotiations. I heard in 1982 there had been an event called a walk in the woods taken by an American arms negotiator and his Russian counterpart. It occurred to me that that would be a fruitful way to impose things between a couple of characters.

ROSENBERG: How would you treat the election of 2008?

BLESSING: It has taken me seven years to write my George W. Bush play but I finally did. That’s a play called When We Walk upon the Sea, which has been commissioned by small theater in Philadelphia, called the InterAct Theater. That’s actually a play that’s set in the future, and it’s quite suppositional. It takes place in The Hague, Holland, the night before Bush turns himself in to be tried in the court.

ROSENBERG: For war crimes?

BLESSING: Yes. It’s sort of a wishful thinking play.

ROSENBERG: What are you working on now?

BLESSING: I’m working on an adaptation of a Thornton Wilder novel called Heaven’s My Destination.

ROSENBERG: What provides the most satisfaction from writing plays?

BLESSING: It’s hard to write plays for this long of a period of time. Usually, the message in our society is you need to do this for a while until you can use it to leverage a career in writing for television or film, because those are the areas that pay a real living. If I lived only on what I make as a playwright, I’d have to live in a hollow log in Maine. That’s the reality of it. The fact that I’ve been able to do what I wanted, which was to create a body of work for the stage over a long period of time in a culture that’s inimical to that, has been really satisfying.

Martin Rosenberg ’71 is editor-in-chief of EnergyBiz, a national magazine covering energy, and an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Kansas.

reed magazine logoSpring 2009