(From The New York Times, 6/24; photo: The New York Times; via Pam Green.)
It took David Adjmi 10 years to write his new memoir, “Lot Six” (HarperCollins). The last four months were spent ensuring there were no legal issues.
“I never wanted to write a roman à clef but it ended up being that because you can’t use all these names,” the playwright said recently. “I had enough trouble already,” he added, laughing.
Perhaps he was alluding to his satire “3C,” which brought on a legal battle with the copyright holder of the sitcom “Three’s Company.” (Adjmi won the case in 2015.) Or perhaps the reference was to his experience at Juilliard, when he fell on the bad side of a teacher he calls Gloria in the book.
Adjmi’s Off Broadway debut, “Stunning,” in 2009, drew from his childhood in Brooklyn’s Syrian-Jewish enclave. The book’s title refers to a pricing code for three, an odd number associated with gayness — “as in three-dollar bill,” he said. The stylized, bitingly funny show, and its author’s unorthodox back story, attracted the attention of HarperCollins. Adjmi, now 47, set out to compose essays about his cultural influences, but started sliding toward more personal territory — a move his publisher encouraged.
“They said, ‘You need to make it about how you became a writer,’” he recalled.
Adjmi may be a relatively niche playwright (the memoir ends with the closing of “Stunning”), but his lifelong devotion to art as an identity-defining tool of self-expression gives the book a fervid tone that is hard to resist; his talent for laugh-out-loud funny set pieces does the rest.
He is the same in conversation, pin-balling from raucous laughter to tears, and sending an interviewer to the dictionary to check out what “agon” means (it’s ancient Greek for conflict, naturally).
“David is so witty and he’s also quite precise,” said the actress Cristin Milioti, who counts “Stunning” as one of the best shows she’s ever done. “The way he writes is so rhythmic.”
It’s not a surprise, then, that music features prominently in Adjmi’s new stage projects. These are edited excerpts from the conversation, by FaceTime from Los Angeles.
Your life has not always gone smoothly but the Juilliard period, with the instructor you call Gloria, stands out as a painful low. How did you recover?
To this day, I talk to my peers about that experience and they’re like, “No, she likes you, she cares about you.” I think I was looking for a certain kind of permission, and I had to give myself the authority. Art is a disruption, you’re declaring war in a certain way, you’re telling everybody else, “This is my point of view.”