Carl Hancock Rux is an American poet, novelist, OBIE award-winning playwright, interdisciplinary performative artist, and recording artist. His albums include Rux Revue (Sony), Apothecary Rx (Giant Step), Good Bread Alley (Thirsty Ear), and Homeostasis (CD Baby). Rux is the author of the OBIE award-winning play Talk, and the critically acclaimed novel Asphalt. His work has been published in numerous journals, anthologies, and magazines including Interview, The New York Times, A Rude Magazine, Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art, and American Theatre magazine. The Exalted, Rux’s new work, concerning genealogy and genocide,with music by Theo Bleckmann—in which both star–is directed by Anne Bogart. Part of the 2015 Next Wave Festival, Oct 28—Oct 31, 2015, the play will be presented at BAM Fisher/Fishman Space (321 Ashland Pl, Brooklyn, NY, 11217). Rux will additionally be involved in Steel Hammer (2015 Next Wave), a staged incarnation of Julia Wolfe’s oratorio, also directed by Bogart. Visit Rux’s Web site at: http://carlhancockrux.com/
Visit BAM: http://www.bam.org/
Read Part II of this interview:
Carl Hancock Rux Gives an Exclusive Interview with SV's Bob Shuman—Part II will Be Published October 19
Who are you in Beckett?
Krapp (in his twenties).
. . . in A Chorus Line?
Mike Costa, the tap dancer.
(In the musical, Mike Costa sings, “I'm watchin' Sis go pitter-pat. Said, ‘I can do that.’”)
What character are you in Chekhov?
Peter Trofimov, the “eternal student” in The Cherry Orchard. His utopian idealism is lofty and impractical, and he has an unquenchable intellectual thirst for translating symbols into ideology. Where we differ is that he emphasizes truth over love, and I think of myself as quite the opposite.
Do you ever find yourself writing about a place where you don’t want to be?
I write about people who are in places I think I have been in, literally and metaphorically. It’s the only way I’m able to relate to the experience of their crisis.
Why was Strindberg right?
Because he was an occultist, pessimist, and fanatic who believed in political realism’s Thucydidean trap.*
Who first told you that you could be a dramatist and are you still in contact with him or her?
I gave myself permission to be a dramatist because it was my passion, my desire, and creative inclination. Yes, I am still very much in contact with myself.
How are you different or special?
I’m not. I’m the same as every other playwright, except I seem to have no commercial aspirations.
Do you find it hard to write about your childhood—and where was that set?
It has, at various times, been both difficult and freeing to write about my childhood (set in Harlem, the Bronx, foster care, or in dysfunctional familial settings). My childhood wasn’t very pleasant, but I survived it, and I believe I am the better for it. Memory is an agent of emancipation.
Why would Meryl Streep decide against performing in one of your plays?
She wouldn’t decide against it.
. . . James Earl Jones?
Because his father was my first acting teacher.
What’s the nicest thing that someone ever said to you about a play you don’t want to be remembered for?
There are no plays I’ve ever written that I don’t want to be remembered for, but the nicest thing anyone ever said about a play I may have not received great reviews about was that they actually appreciated the work despite what the published opinions of the critics.
Which of your plays forced you to grow most?
Talk forced me to grow because it was a long, tedious process of research and self-reflection, and I had to understand the thesis of it before I could fully grapple with the existential truth of its dramatic precepts and what it meant to me personally.
What does your family say your career is, and when’s the last time that they suggested that you make a major life change?
They think I’m a multidisciplinary abstract artist . . . and they never suggest I do anything differently because they don’t fully understand what I’m trying to do.
The first play you ever saw?
Lloyd Richard’s production of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Broadway, starring Theresa Merritt and Charles S. Dutton. I was nine years old and attended the theater with my aunt. I remember being drawn into the power of its language, and the mystery of a world I’d never seen before (Chicago 1920s).
What’s your most underappreciated work?
A play called Mycenaean. It was about the ancient and contemporary world and the historiography and temporal disjuncture of cyclical tyranny. It was produced during the height of the controversial George W. Bush administration and the war on terrorism.
Give the answer to an essential question about yourself that you realize won't be asked here.
I think the American polyglot fails to define my essential identity.
What is your essential identity?
The “I” of my Soul’s individuality; the intrinsic qualitative dimension of my existence (which is beyond simple classification).
Describe the kinds of actors and directors you look for regarding your projects?
Actors who are in fact, frustrated poets, backseat playwrights, would-be dancers, and part-time singers who recreate the characters they are given, in gardens of philosophical ideology and the phenomenology of Proustian memory.
Directors who are visual artists who read Kant, Jung, Heidegger, and Heraclitus and understand the transcendental neuroscience of dreams.
Your favorite after-theatre indulgence?
A cigarette and Greyhound cocktail.
. . . a pre-show ritual?
Silence, conscious rhythmic breathing and meditative communication with the dead.
If you could put two plays in a time capsule—and one of them was yours—what would they be?
August Strindberg’s A Dream Play and Carl Hancock Rux’s Talk.
What dead playwright would you consider communicating with through an Ouija board?
Jean Genet. I’d want to talk with him about the Politics of Truth and the power of being an uninvited guest.
What living playwright wouldn't you have the nerve to introduce yourself to?
Tony Kushner, but it worked out in the end because he introduced himself to me.
Tell us why your new play, The Exalted, is not a movie.
There are no pretty girls with nude scenes.
How isn't it politically correct? What's it about?
It bookends two stories: a German Jewish art critic who dared champion African art during the post-war German Reich and later, fought in the Spanish Civil war and attempted to flee Nazi persecution during the Vichy regime and the first 20th century genocide that befell German South West Africa in Namibia. It reminds us that we tend to exalt one atrocity over another and is essentially about shared experiences and theoretical perspectives regarding race, post-structuralism, postmodernism, structuration, nefarious refugee homelessness and genocide.
What’s a better idea than graduate school in the Arts?
The continual opportunity to make art.
What’s a better idea than a talkback?
A group psychotherapy session in which the audience talks about themselves (not the play they have just seen) as a means of understanding the play they have just seen.
When shall we meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
(End of Part I)
*A Thucydidean trap is, quite simply, the inordinate national conceit of providence resulting in political catastrophe. Strindberg was (among other things) an anarchist and socialist with pacifist ideologies who saw the inherent danger in the conceit of monarchies.
Press: Baha Ebrahimzadeh/BAM
Photo Courtesy of John Labbe/BAM (l, Carl Hancock Rux; r, Theo Bleckmann. All rights reserved.
Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http 2015:// www.stagevoices.com/ . If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com.