Artfully Edmonds Profile: An interview with playwright Paul Lewis of Driftwood’s ‘Oblivion’

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Paul Lewis
Paul Lewis

March 19 – 22, 2015
Thur, Fri, Sat @ 8 p.m., Sun at 2 p.m.

Oblivion

Written by Paul Lewis
Directed by Paul Fleming

This evening (Thursday) a very exciting, and much anticipated, production returns to the Wade James Theatre (950 Main St.)

The theatre’s company, Driftwood Players, has selected “Oblivion”, by Seattle playwright Paul Lewis, for its March run. The Opening Night curtain rises at 8PM.

The works of Paul Lewis have been performed on stages across America. He has an amazing range of interests, both in subject matter, and is influenced musically by Bill Evans and Astor Piazzolla, among others. Lewis set the lyrics to Bill Evans’ jazz ballad, “Time Remembered” which has been recorded by vocal artists around the world.

Enthusiasts of Driftwood Player’s “Festival of Shorts” will recall his award-winning entry from the 4th Annual festival when it won the Audience Favorite award.

oblivionimageDuring the summer of 2013 “Oblivion” enjoyed production at three houses. Since then Lewis has expanded the production to 90-minutes. It is this fresh version that director Paul Fleming will bring to the Driftwood audience during the play’s 4-day run.

Last year the play was published in “The Best Ten-Minute Plays of 2014” (Smith & Kraus).

“Oblivion” deals with past trysts, tangled emotions, travel to distant lands – and the Tango. Tickets for opening night are available now here.
“Artfully Edmonds” (AE) was granted an exclusive interview with one of the most talented individuals I hope to ever meet – Paul Lewis (PS). Come along for our conversation about his life and accomplishments before picking up your tickets for “Oblivion.”

AE: You are quite a juggling act – but it seems that all of your passions come down to “composing” — whether as a lyricist, a composer, or as a playwright/writer. Are there “task” distinctions between the three realms?

PL: Musicals are complicated beasts, with a million moving pieces. Straight plays present their own crazy challenges. In the end, it all comes down to story and character, and how best to portray them. Some stories and characters completely resist the language and cadence of musical theatre, and others seem to cry out for it— although sometimes you actually don’t know whether or not you’ve made the right call until after the piece is written. A few years ago I wrote a musical about a 1930s aviation meteorologist, which I now realize would probably have worked better as a straight play. So I’m in the process of deconstructing it. Although it’s painful to trash an entire score, I’m hopeful that a more compelling story will emerge from the wreckage.
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AE: “Hoffmeister’s Hypothesis” aka “Lucky Ducks” spans only 10-minutes – gosh! Are you cheating your audience – or yourself – who might want the story to continue?

PL: How on earth did you dig up that obscure little number? But, that question aside, I think that “Hoffmeister” has a proper beginning, middle and ending as it is, and I’m not sure that the world of Arts and Letters would in any way benefit if I were to try to blow it up into a full-length piece. Thanks for the suggestion, though!
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AE: Following up on that “shorts” versus “full productions” question: Will any of your shorts be expanded into full productions in the future?

PL: None that I’m aware of at the moment. “Oblivion” was unique, in that, soon after I finished the ten-minute version and saw it staged for the first time, I realized that I wanted to spend more time with its characters and dramatize the thirty-year arc which brought them to the particular juncture in time in which the ten-minute play takes place. So writing the full-length piece was really a very deliberate process of revealing and discovery for me; one which led to the play’s structure, which moves back and forth in time.
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AE: What are you working on right this very minute? And the proper response is not, “Deciding between a café ole or an Americana!”

PL: I’m working on a new opening number for the musical “Caps for Sale”, along with co-writer Gabe Carbajal. The show is planned for a 2016 production at Boston Children’s Theatre. They workshopped it last November, and quite astutely pointed out the need for a few revisions, including a bigger, more engaging opening song. Some songs take literally ten minutes to write. Gabe and I have been discussing this one for weeks!
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AE: Getting back to “Oblivion” which will open tonight at Edmonds’ Wade James Theatre – which composers inspired, or influenced the writing of “Oblivion” – Serebrier? Fabini?

PL: Above all, it’s the music of Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine composer and bandoneón player, which informed the writing of this play. In fact, there is a 24-hour radio station out of Buenos Aires devoted almost entirely to his music, which I had on nearly constantly while writing this script and that of the ten-minute piece which preceded it. One of his most haunting compositions is, in fact, a piece called “Oblivion”, excerpts of which can be heard as underscoring during the current production. I could think of no more appropriate title for this story.
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AE: Production Tease: Does “Oblivion” which, of course, takes place predominately in Uruguay, contain any of the magical surrealism that readers often find in Latin American fiction?

PL: Although it takes place in Latin America, the play’s primary narrative arc is really that of Giselle, an American woman who travels to Uruguay as a tourist, an outsider, and returns decades later, compelled by an unresolved dissonance in her heart. As interesting as a magical realism style is, I don’t think that it would have felt authentic to Giselle’s particular character.
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AE: Does the plot line of “Oblivion” parallel a moment in your own life? Have You – like most of us – chased after an elusive past love?

PL: I’m going to answer that one obliquely. The truth is that one never quite forgets the loves that got away or the love affairs that might have been. That kind of ineffable longing has inspired innumerable stories and journeys throughout time.
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AE: What advice would you give “the next” generation – high school students whose passion is composing, whether it be music or productions on stage?

PL: Creating art can be so very hard, yet so astonishingly rewarding. My advice would be to find your own voice and nurture it. Develop a thick skin. Accept the reality that doubts, failures and heartbreaks are a part of the process. I break every one of these rules on a daily basis, yet I keep trying to get it right.
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“Artfully Edmonds” would like to thank Paul Lewis for the generosity of his time; and Driftwood Players for extending the opportunity of this interview ~ AE.

— By Emily Hill

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