Christopher Durang

       My play is closing this coming Sunday (Nov. 17). It is called Sex and Longing, Lincoln Center Theater is presenting it on Broadway at the Cort Theater, and it stars my friend Sigourney Weaver. (She and I met at the Yale School of Drama as fellow students.)
       It was a limited run, meant to end Nov. 17 all along–Sigourney is scheduled to go off to kill aliens for the fourth time, this time with Winona Ryder.
       However, my play was apparently not well received by the critics, and so the impending closing is fraught with emotion and confusion for me.
       I say “apparently not well received” because I have chosen so far not to read the critics.
       If you have never been reviewed, this may strike you as hard to believe. But being reviewed is often very painful, like having one’s psyche stuck with pins filled with venom. Plus, knowing the details of what negative things have been said about your work is extremely debilitating.
       However, as I’m rediscovering for myself, not reading them is also debilitating, because, unfortunately, one’s imagination can take flight; and I find myself angry and hurt about things that I imagine have been said, until I catch myself and realize I am reacting to imaginary slights, not real ones.
       On the other hand, I do run into people who say things like, “I saw and enjoyed your play; I don’t know what the critics were talking about.” I went to a dinner Saturday night, and this person I don’t know well gave me a hug and said, “I have no idea why the critics had such a nasty tone to them.” This triggers my negative imagination a lot. I may just have to read the reviews, like taking a dose of poison and hoping my body produces the antibodies quickly.
       It isn’t just ego … it’s reality perception. If I think I’ve done something good, and it makes me laugh, and it makes other people laugh … I can’t just turn on a dime and go, “Oh, I see, I’m wrong, it’s crummy, it’s not funny, and the people who laughed are, I guess, unbalanced or something … or thinking of some previous play they’ve seen.”
       Most audiences, it seems to me, have enjoyed the play. Though the other night I went by, and the audience did indeed seem to hate it. So I’m confused.
       We thought the play was hilarious in rehearsal. In previews, we were relieved that the Broadway house of strangers laughed a lot. I thought we had Act 3 problems; and we changed that act a lot over the preview period. I’m not sure I “fixed” it, but I know I improved it.
       Oh well, is it boring to read about this? Are you going to write a negative review of my “Diary” entry somewhere?
       Since the play opened (Oct. 10 … oh, a month ago; so I haven’t read the reviews for a month), some days I’m fine about it, other days I feel bad. But then I look for solace in trees and jigsaw puzzles and ducks in the pond outside my window.
       A year ago, I bought a house in Pennsylvania, and I live here with my domestic partner, John. How else should I say that? I live with my male euphemism, John. I live with fellow bachelor John. I live with someone, but never mind who. In any case, it’s very pretty here, and I’m awfully glad to get to forget about reviews and frustrations.
       Later today I have to go into the city–New York, that is, not Philadelphia or Trenton or Camden–names that somehow conjure up Thornton Wilder, don’t they? Thornton Wilder likes my new play; my friend John channeled him over dinner, and Thornton heaped praise upon me. Then he mentioned his sister, Isabel Wilder, which proves John was really channeling. We looked it up, and Thornton’s sister’s name indeed was Isabel! So, you see!
       John goes to great lengths to cheer me up, and I appreciate it.
       Anyway, I started to say: Later today I go to New York, where I’m having a reading of a very short one-act I wrote about alcoholism. I won a three-year grant from the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Foundation, and one of the stipulations of the grant is that you “do something” in the outside world of value to the community. So, last year, I ran a writing workshop for adult children of alcoholics (I too come from this background); this year, my workshop has combined with another workshop that prepares short plays about alcoholism for high-school students. And so, later today, I’ll go hear this one-act; I wrote it in the last two weeks (it’s only 20 minutes; they’re meant to be short).
       It’s meant for a high-school audience, to trigger a discussion period. There won’t be any critics who suddenly show up and review this, will there? If anyone reviews this, I’ll shoot them. No, I’m not violent. I’ll speak to them harshly, and carry a big stick, but not actually harm them. I have a gentle side to me, and I’ll use that side. I’ll smile pleasantly and wave my big stick.
       Have you read the reviews of my play? Were they dreadful? No, don’t tell me.