Frank Schierloh, Connor Feimster, Jeff Hunsicker, and Thomas-Robert Irvin. Cast photo by John Donges.
Michael Perlman: I wrote Flying on the Wing, probing into what about my life story was worth sharing.
What the play ended up being was an exploration of whether or not everything happens for a reason, and, essentially, how what I faced were not adversities, but simply the experiences of my specific life.
I wrote the play ten years ago, so it feels like a very different place in my life and my work.
Eger: Cino concludes her review of you and your work with these observations: “Perlman has won his battle. [. . .] Ultimately, the show is about how love does make a difference, and how life is a choice, and how at the intersection of love and life is the possibility for genuine transformation.”
Could you talk about how transformation fuels your work?
Perlman: When we were looking for a new play to do with Fault Line Theater back in 2012, a few possibilities fell through.
I [then] got the idea of FROM WHITE PLAINS and offered them to write that play. We had a workshop production that June—with an opening night scheduled before the play was written.
Eger: That sounds risky.
Perlman: The workshop approach is invaluable to me. It is the only way I know how to write. I can write plenty on my own. In FROM WHITE PLAINS, for example, I came to the first rehearsal with a much simpler version of the ending that was not nearly as emotionally complicated. The feedback I got was to make it more emotionally complicated—so I went home that night and reworked it.
I write for—and sometimes with—the ensemble, using their voices and feedback to guide where the play goes. All of my plays are written for specific actors and for their specific skill sets.
Perlman: I did a few playwriting programs when I was a teenager—through The Playwrights Center in Minneapolis and Young Playwrights, Inc. in New York. As I kept developing, I realized that I truly valued the rehearsal collaboration with actors and the big picture.
Perlman: Yes. When I was facing writer’s block in FROM WHITE PLAINS, I would go to a Tumblr we created and find inspiration from what the actors posted. In some cases, stories people shared made it directly into my earlier drafts. [For example,] the telephone moments in FROM WHITE PLAINS came from an exercise I had given the actors.
Perlman: I’m interested in exploring how we, as a country, seem more and more afraid of the gray areas between good and bad. Everyone coming [to a show] would believe they know that “Gay bullying is bad.” I wanted to choose a topic that explores how to make that [illusion] complex: What happens when it’s in our past? How do we hold on to it and honor our past? Can we truly become adults without facing what we’ve done to others? Can we move beyond what we’ve had done to us? And how do we move on?
Perlman: Many [share] their own stories and respond to Dennis’ line, “It’s not that I’m holding onto it, it’s holding on to me.” I hear a lot about that—about the limits of forgiveness. How what happens in high school still affects us throughout our lives. I also heard from people who were bullies, and how it offered a new perspective for them. I personally think people are hungry for nuanced conversations, and I think and hope that FROM WHITE PLAINS offers that.