Steven, you’re a huge Red Sox fan. How did you get hooked?
Steven Drukman: My father had season tickets to Fenway Park on the third base line. There was no way to not become a Red Sox fan.
I’d see something like a game a week, and I became a rabid fan. I memorized stats and numbers, and speculated about trades. Before fantasy baseball got big, I would construct ideal Red Sox teams that were made up of my favorite players from other teams, or historical Red Sox teams.
Is Ellis is a representation of your own fandom?
SD: Definitely: In her ardor, and extreme fandom. That’s one part of me. And then Simon is another part of me: someone who reacts to that fandom with a bit of chagrin at the clannishness that team sports can excite in members of our species. While I am a Red Sox fan, I still don’t lose the perspective of seeing how obnoxious Red Sox fans can be.
Alexander, on the other hand—you were recently at Fenway Park for the very first time?
Alexander Greenfield: In comparison to Steven, I feel like a complete neophyte. I grew up in Atlanta and we went to Braves games, but I never considered myself a Braves fan. Then I lived in New York for ten years, but never became a Yankees or Mets fan.
But there is something special about Fenway Park’s placement at the heart of Boston. It feels more in touch with the community. Walking to the stadium alongside the throngs of fans contextualized for me a certain New England spirit. The rabidity with which people feel dedicated to their home team was very palpable.
When David Ortiz stepped out of the dugout, everyone gave him a standing ovation. And then when he struck out, they remained on their feet and applauded him, reassuring him that their love had not swayed. In the theatre world, this is something that even our greatest divas are rarely afforded.
What has this collaboration been like for the two of you?
SD: The pairing was sort of a shotgun marriage; we knew people in common. But it’s worked out really well. To speak candidly, it’s been the nicest part of the experience. Alex is not only a really generous collaborator and a gentle dramaturg, but he’s contributed to the script in a way that has made it what it is.
AG: As a Jewish guy who didn’t grow up in Boston or as a sports fan, there seems to be a sort of perversity that I’m directing the Christmas play about the Red Sox. But in some way I see it as my greatest asset to the process.
It enables my chief interest to be making the backbone of the play and the core of the story as strong and as interesting as possible. Because Steven and I are not identical in our extracurricular interests, I can allow my ignorance to point out ways we can strengthen or add connective tissue, or further explanation – so we can satisfy the many who share Ellis’ fandom, but also create a theatre experience that doesn’t leave anyone out.
Is it a challenge to have Ted Williams, this larger-than-life icon, at the center of a play?
AG: One of the first things we instinctively agreed on when we first met, was that we didn’t want to hang our hats on an emulation of Ted Williams—or of any notable Red Sox player of the past or present.
We needed an original story, with original characters. And when we do encounter Williams, there had to be some kind of theatrical conceit which makes it about our protagonists’ encounter with him, through their lens, which can play on our own perceptions. People like Williams are icons and heroes to us. The efficacy of the endeavor couldn’t rely on how virtuosic or precise an actor’s impression was. We couldn’t just rely on having auditions to find someone that looks and sounds exactly like him.
SD: To add to that: I’ve written a sports biography play, about the boxer Joe Louis. And I learned, in the process of rewrites and rehearsals for that play, that what always happens is that biographical minutiae are removed from the play, more and more and more, as you get closer to opening night. Because if you have intelligent people in the rehearsal room – actors, directors, dramaturgs – maybe an intelligent playwright – you’re concerned about the theatrical event.
You have to do as much research as possible – then let go of that research as you’re making the play.
Alexander, how much of the physical design stems from your vision?
AG: I remember Steven saying to me, “how do you do a road trip onstage?” It’s gonna mean a lot of locations, but you don’t wanna have to haul out naturalistic scenery for each one, which stalls the proceedings and eliminates the fleet-footedness of the play.
At the earliest stage, we didn’t really know what the story was yet. We just knew it would involve two reporters—and that it was going to be a road trip of some sort. Our scenic designer Jason Sherwood and I had to cook up a space that puts us inside the world of these two journalists, but also can transform readily to recreate different locales.
And flexibly –because the play’s still being written. I want to be able to go into rehearsals, and discover “Oh! It would be great to be able to have another location.” Or “Oh! It would be great for this thing to be able to move here.”
So it’s really about creating a container that sets you up with the arsenal, so that the lighting designer Brian Lilienthal and I can go in and carve up that space with light, and if we need to add a location, Brian and I can say “Let’s use the tools we have to create a new location out of shape and light,” instead of “Oh no, we didn’t think to order a giant I-285 sign for when they get trapped in traffic in Atlanta for a scene that’s yet to be written.”
Steven, why do you write for the stage?
SD: I was a journalist before I was a playwright—and an actor before that. And I think both of those jobs were gateway jobs to playwriting, which I didn’t know at the time.
To me, what playwrights are are actor-journalists. They use the body of an actor to report concerns to our species. Even if it’s not factual journalism, it’s emotional journalism.
Perhaps I’m lucky that I don’t really have the facility to write novels and short stories – because playwriting forces me out of myself. You have to be somewhat social, which is something for a real extreme introvert like myself to be. And so I just love writing for the stage.