Interview: John Kuntz

From December 5 – January 3, SpeakEasy will present the World Premiere of local playwright John Kuntz’s Necessary Monsters. To prepare for this mind-bending dark comedy, we asked John a few questions about the genesis of the piece, and what audiences should expect going in.

What is NECESSARY MONSTERS all about?

Necessary Monsters is (at least) five different over-lapping stories, all called “Necessary Monsters”. In the first scene you meet two people on a blind date, and discover that one of them is a film editor, working on a low-budget horror film called Necessary Monsters. In the next scene, you meet two people in a club, and you realize that they are characters from the film mentioned in the first scene. All the stories live inside each other like a set of Russian dolls. As the play progresses, the stories begin to overlap and entwine. The characters are all connected by one huge tragic event, and the play moves relentlessly towards that final moment.

What was your inspiration for this play?

I got the inspiration for the play after reading Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings, which is this wonderful, alphabetically-ordered compendium of man-made creatures. The title actually comes from the Forward in the book: Borges believed that some monsters were “Necessary”; that we needed to make up certain creatures in order to understand why such terrible/random/wonderful things happen to us all. Borges is a poet, so even though the book is structured like a dictionary, the entries are all very beautiful and haunting. All of the characters in the play are loosely based on the monsters from the book. So there’s a Minotaur in the play, and a Harpy, and a Genie. I don’t think you would ever realize that by just watching the play, but that is how it all began!

How does this show compare with some of your past work?

Well, I guess my plays tend to be non-linear and surrealistic. Someone once described “The Hotel Nepenthe” as a “schizophrenic noir” and I thought that was pretty apt. The structure of my plays are usually inspired by a certain place or object: a hotel, an airplane, an image on a salt container. But then that structure begins to disintegrate: actors play multiple characters; time moves backwards, forwards or sideways; the fourth wall slams up and down. And there’s typically an absurd, dark humor to it all. I work from dreams and emotions and instinct usually. Being an actor really helps my writing, because I think actors just instinctively understand what works on stage and what doesn’t. I find that the play usually doesn’t like to be tackled or pinned to a mat. The play is smarter than me, so when I’m just starting out I let it tell me where it wants to go and what it wants to be. Before I begin writing, I always ask myself: “What play would I want to see, if I were in the audience?” And then I try to write that play.

You not only wrote NECESSARY MONSTERS, but will also star in it. How will your work as an actor in this production inform your process as the playwright on the piece?

At some point in the process I have to stop thinking like a playwright and start thinking like an actor. They’re like two different parts of my brain. But at the same time, the two sides never really leave me. I really like acting in my own plays because I understand the play better when I’m inside it. It’s like being inside a gigantic clock: you can see all the cogs and the wheels turning and when something is broken and needs fixing. So then I step outside as a playwright for a moment, make the necessary adjustment and then jump back in again!

This is also your 5th collaboration with Director David R. Gammons. Why do you think you two work so well together?

David and I have worked together on my plays The Salt Girl and The Hotel Nepenthe, as well as an all-male production of Titus Andronicus for Actors Shakespeare Project and last seasons’ The Whale. I think we love working together because we have so much in common: We’re both about the same age. We’re both gay. We both love The Smiths and candy and have really dark senses of humor. We get excited by similar stage aesthetics, but from very different perspectives: I’m primarily an actor/playwright, while David is a director as well as a very talented designer and visual artist. So we inspire each other from different angles. It’s a really wonderful creative partnership and friendship and one that I will always cherish.