How do you think the world would change without women?
It would be horrible. I think it would be a drastic, drastic reduction in the quality of life. I can’t imagine it ever happening. But, in satire, you sort of imagine the unimaginable — just bite the bullet and go.
How have men evolved to give birth?
I have no idea. But they’ve made it efficient. And less messy, I guess. Men don’t do well with pain.
There’s an old joke, often attributed to Gloria Steinem: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” In this world, abortion is illegal. Why?
Because I think men are stupid.
The play satirizes religion. Were you religious as a kid?
My mother would drive 30 minutes to drop me off at my grandmother’s, so that I could go to church, and she could go back home to sleep. I loved the performance. I loved it when the gospel choir started to sing.
Did you pray?
I did. I was very afraid that women would die, that my mother would die, that my grandmother would die, that my aunts would die, that I would wake up, and they wouldn’t be there.
Did religion follow you into adulthood?
No. My sexuality was not going to be accepted. Religion and sexuality didn’t seem to go together.
A lot of satirists are moralists. Are you?
No. I don’t believe that anyone should tell anyone else what to do in a moral way. Other than to do no harm. I don’t think anyone should be hurt or violated or harmed unless that’s how they get their kicks.
Something for the masochists.
Exactly. Leave a little bit for the masochists. I’m not a rules-setter, and this is odd to say, because, of course, the theater requires strong rules. But I instantly break them. Somewhere in the work, there’s a pipe bomb. You don’t know where it is until it explodes.
It is too soon.
I’ve heard that at some point during rehearsals, you always say to the crew: “O.K. Have your bags packed. They’re going to run us out of town.”
That’s true. [The playwright and director] George C. Wolfe said to me, “When you feel like they’re ready to run you out of town, get in front of it and act like it’s your parade.” What that has always meant to me is: Own it. With satire, you can’t go a little bit of the way. Then it’s just a comedy. You have to go for the throat. You have to go full throttle.
It’s pretty full-throttle to kill off all women.
Absolutely. It’s a violent act. I have to own that. One of my assistants, she said, “It’s interesting sitting in the theater and not being acknowledged in the world of the play.” And I said: “I go and watch a bunch of white people onstage all the time. I’m not there.” I watch my existence being erased on a regular basis.
We really need no more diversity panels, no more diversity conferences. Just hire people of color and women to write and direct. Just do it. We are invested in talking it out, and that just won’t work.
You’re trying to get me in trouble.
I’m not trying to get you in trouble. I don’t mind if you get yourself there.
I don’t mind, either. Because being private is not helping.
Why do you insist on directing your work?
Sometimes I want the entire experience to come from me. Sometimes it completes the play. Sometimes I just want to be able to write something and, like, go home and watch a movie, and let other people deal with it.
Why direct this?
Because it’s a tricky play. And because I wanted to make sure that the negotiation between the stage and the audience came from me, so that if the critics clobber it, it came from me, and not from someone else interpreting me. Also, I was interested in where the director in me would take it.
You’ve called your work the “Theater of Choke.” Why do you want to choke an audience?
I want the experience for the audience to be a sort of speeding train that gets completely and totally out of hand. My motto is: Everyone is welcome, and no one is safe. I don’t think that anyone should learn a history lesson or come out a better person.
You wrote this play two years ago. Has your writing changed as the political landscape has changed?
Completely. Because the world is a satire now. Where do satirists go? When I think of an idea, all I have to do is just turn on the TV. It’s been handled. It’s been very difficult to direct this play; it’s been very difficult to be in the room with this play. I’m aware of the privilege of being an artist, and I’m also aware of how little I can do in the world, and how little I can contribute in the world. And that’s heartbreaking.
So how do you stage satire now?
I don’t know. But I think this play is one of those torches that we need to hold up in the air.
Torches. Too soon?
I’m a satirist. Everything is too soon. It’s not too soon for the president. Yeah, that’s for sure. So why is it too soon for me?