Lynn Navarra is prolific and prophetic. Penning numerous plays, short stories and poems, she has received acclaim for stage works including The Sandman (rumor has that this will be revived later in the season), Vita Sackville West; The Man in the Pink Tower, Leaving Lannahassee, The Price; Maria Callas’ Final Day and Conversations with My Mother. Aside from her current extended sojourn at the venerable American Theater of Actors, she’s had works presented at The Manhattan Theatre Source, Workshop Theatre Company and The Neighborhood Playhouse. And her essay; Mirrors, won the Samhain Contest sponsored by Banshee Studios. Her works are topical and literate, so Drama-Queens jumped at the chance to get in her head for a few lines.
Her current work, Leaving Lannahassee, opens on January 18 at the ATA and tickets can now be purchased online by clicking HERE
Organized crime, mental illness …. heavy stuff. Where do you get your inspirations?
Inspirations come from many places – sometimes even in dreams. I generally find a subject I’m interested in and see what I can do with it. My main focus is always who my characters are and create situations that put them to the test. Once I know who they are, I can begin to see what they would do in a given set of circumstances, how they handle things. I think it was the great playwright Christian Friedrich Hebbel, who said “in a good play, everyone is right.” I believe that to be true because I think people are driven to do the right thing – even if it’s generally accepted as the wrong thing. It may not be what you or I would do but the key is understanding how they got there and how they come to the conclusion of how to get out or move on. What always matters is what’s in the mind of the character, what motivates him or her to move forth the action of the play, what is the path they must take to see their way through the given predicaments put before them. The Sandman was inspired by the fact my dad was a police officer in Manhattan and also worked construction on the side. I have a strong nostalgia for New York City of the 1970’s and have always been interested in the historic crime wave of the Westies that ruled Hell’s Kitchen during that time. I created the circumstances that would throw the two together and although it was challenging, I enjoyed the journey it took me on in the best possible way. My cousin, Chazz Palminteri has also been a great inspiration to me for having witnessed a murder in his childhood and using that disturbing image to create his fantastic story A Bronx Tale. It demonstrates beautifully the level of understanding of characters and how each one deals with his plight.
What’s the message of the play?
The message of Leaving Lannahassee is twofold: that here again, everyone is seemingly doing what they think is right, but are they really? It is an exploration of the mind and in this case doubly daunting for two of the characters because they are dealing with mental illness. My aim was also to send the message that not everything is cut and dry or black and white and what it seems to be. That outside forces and inner emotions combined with psychological elements can reap all kinds of havoc on an individual or individuals with this particular set of circumstances and the way in which they find their way out of them. It comes down again to developing an understanding of the characters’ plights and their motivation for driving the action of the play.
Why did you become a playwright? Did you always want to work in the arts?
I started out, many years ago, wanting to become an actress and studied both at the Neighborhood Playhouse and HB Studio. And, although I have always written poetry and short stories, it was my acting education that taught me a great deal about dialogue. That is, the theatrical way of speaking – that each line drives forth the next one. That theatrical speech is created to push each line in a scene to move forward the next scene. It comes down to countless decisions and the goal is to keep the train on the track. For me, playwriting has given me my voice unlike other genres of writing that I’ve explored. Writing plays is where I feel most comfortable. I like the challenge of writing dialogue that expresses who the character is. I don’t always get it right but for me, the beauty is getting it as good and convincing as I know how. I sometimes look at it as Evel Knievel, my childhood hero, setting up all those buses to jump over with his motorcycle. Each bus for me is a scene that must be cleared to get to the next one and somehow it all has to make sense. Like Evel, I have crashed many times but like him too, I try to always get back up, without the broken bones, of course!
How has it been working at the formidable ATA?
The American Theatre of Actors is a godsend! For forty years, Mr. James Jennings has been working with actors and playwrights to produce plays and give them the exposure we all need. Mr. Jennings and his band of exceptional and multi-talented actors and directors have elevated my mind to the possibilities of the theatre. It is a generous, professional organization and yet it has the feeling of home. I have met so many wonderfully friendly and personable artists there and have enjoyed and learned something from each of them.
What’s after this?
That’s always the question, isn’t it? There are indeed a few things on the horizon! One of which is that I am currently revisiting a play I wrote about Maria Callas. I am interested in her both as the great opera star; La Callas but also, Maria, the woman – her story, her plight. Every character, real or fictional has a backstory and a plight that makes up his or her life. Some are more compelling than others. The external story of Maria Callas is well documented and known. Her internal story has been well analyzed and talked about. I’d like to explore the possibility, through historical fiction, of her revealing more, shedding more light with the goal to hopefully bring even more understanding to this phenomenal star and woman because all things are possible in the theatre.