“My Broadway debut was also my Broadway debacle,” Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies said last night during a lecture in the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater. “Now that’s a good opening line.”
Margulies was the recipient of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play, Dinner with Friends and the screenwriter for the 2015 film The End of the Tour. Last night marked the beginning of his two-day stay on campus, which will also include class visits and a screening of his film.
The visit was proposed by Richard L. Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing Katharine Weber — who also serves as a faculty advisor for the Collegian — as part of the Faculty Lectureships series. Weber unsuccessfully suggested Margulies for the series two years ago, but when she brought his name up again this year, the Faculty Lectureships committee agreed to try to arrange the visit.
“I was doggedly convinced that he would be a very exciting visitor,” Weber said in an interview. “And I think what convinced the committee to decide on him this time was that in the interim his screenplay for The End of the Tour became a factor, because the movie had come out.”
The End of the Tour, partially based on Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky’s novel Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, follows Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) on a five-day interview with famed author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel).
Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon in 2005 that would eventually turn into the acclaimed essay “This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life,” published in 2009.
To begin the first event of Margulies’ stay — a lecture and discussion hosted Wednesday night in the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater — Weber introduced Margulies, struggling to list each of his accolades without taking up too much of his time.
Margulies slouched casually on a tall stool centered against the blank, light gray front wall of the theater, but his presence filled the room from the moment he began to speak.
“I feel like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral,” he said, getting a chuckle from the crowd.
Although Margulies emphasized that he wanted the lecture to turn into a discussion, he began with what he described as a “thumbnail sketch” of his life. He described his upbringing in a culturally Jewish household, and how theater influenced his life from a young age.
“We didn’t go to synagogue,” Margulies said, “but we did go to Broadway.”
He also emphasized the importance of others supporting his eventual desire to be a playwright and discussed the central themes — religion, familial relationships, and internality — that he visits and revisits in his plays.
When Margulies turned the discussion to the audience, many hands rose in the air. With each question, the discussion leaped from topic to topic, emphasizing Margulies’ wide range of expertise. Margulies answered audience questions about choosing subject matter and writing a first draft, rising in success, working with others, writing for specific actors, writing women and finding visual ways to show a character’s internal thoughts.
During his time on campus, Margulies will also visit classes and participate in a screening and discussion of The End of the Tour later tonight. Margulies, who is an adjunct professor of English at Yale, will sit in on James Michael Playwright-in-Residence/Professor of Drama Wendy MacLeod’s playwriting class as well as Weber’s senior seminar in creative writing.
“I think it’s always an opportunity when students can talk to a working writer about the process of what it is to get work done and what they think about things,” Weber said. “There are things that writers can always talk about in fruitful ways because it’s always different and changing.”
The End of the Tour screening and discussion will take place tonight in the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater at 7 p.m.
“We get to have the rare experience to actually talk to the screenwriter of a film that we have just saw,” Weber said of tonight’s event. “He has spent more time than the rest of us thinking about David Foster Wallace and how he thinks and writes, and he certainly has devoted himself to honoring who he was as a character and as a person.”