29
Jan
2011

Rick Burkhardt’s wonderful way with words

The more I learn about Rick Burkhardt, the author of Conversation Storm, the play we are producing in June, the more turned on I get. In general, I think that much of contemporary playwriting is involved with flashy verbal pyrotechnics in a way that can perhaps best be described as masturbatory. I am not going to name names. but I’ll say that on Hollywood’s theater row, there are two, count them, two plays playing at this moment by one of the most egregious practitioners of this kind of thing, a nationally “acclaimed” playwright.

Rick Burkhardt isn’t like that. He has such interesting thoughts, that he needs to mess with the language a little to say what he means. He isn’t screwing around with the words to show you how clever he is.

There is a great interview with Burkhardt here, which is worth a read. I have picked out a couple of high points.

In recent years, listening to voices in the U.S. mainstream having a “conversation about torture” felt to me like being trapped in a train car with a bunch of people who are having a “conversation about cannibalism.” Of course, a threat of violence isn’t really a conversation, either in reality or in a “hypothetical situation” like the famous ticking time bomb scenario (whose relation to reality is strained and tenuous at best), or for that matter in a play.

and then:

Music is like a light that you can shine on words, to see the shadows of the words that you wouldn’t see otherwise — and the more you can modulate the colors and focus of the beams of light, the more you can see in the shadows. So re-investigating what the word “song” might mean is really my main interest, and anybody who’s done that is one of my heroes.

See what I mean? Even if you don’t know exactly what he means in the second case, he gives you the distinct impression that he knows, and he leaves you wanting more.

Which is the way we like it.