Los Angeles-based playwright Guy Zimmerman’s theatrical “exploded noir” makes its international debut in Berlin
The Black Glass’ premise is relatively simple: one man attempts to blackmail another by claiming that his daughter’s sex tape will be released on the internet if he doesn’t pay up. It’s the details that start to cloud the glass, obscure motives and reveal deeper intentions.
Developed with Padua Playwrights, Zimmerman’s 2012 piece debuted at the LA Fringe and was then produced by the PushPush company in Atlanta at the end of the year. As part of PushPush’s continuing initiative to increase international collaboration, a series of discussions about theatre and television in a globalised 21st century will accompany the play’s two-week run in Ballhaus Ost.
What exactly does the “black glass” of the title refer to?
America’s not going to fund this light bulb.
The play is really about two men at the window of an office tower – behind the sort of black glass of skyscrapers in pretty much any major city. I’m from New York, so I have this image of huge panels of black glass that make up the skyline. And the play asks, what does the black glass tell us? Glass usually reflects the truth. Well, what is the truth that it’s telling us?
What does it tell you? Has your opinion changed since writing the piece?
I had a big revelation about it while working on it this week to get ready for the LA run: I found myself referring to it as an exploded noir, in the way a diagram can be exploded and pulled apart to see how all the pieces work together. That’s exactly what I was trying to do on the level of the writing. The image helped to clarify some of the things that we’ve been grappling with in terms of how to bring it to life on stage and what we’re trying to do. It’s just an example of what an ongoing process this is.
Why did you decide to do theatre in Los Angeles instead of New York?
I actually really like LA; I find it really intriguing. Living and working in LA you feel like you’re at the heart of the unsustainable consumer culture that’s chewing up the planet. In New York you can kind of convince yourself that you’re not really part of America – it’s off the coast, halfway to Europe – but out here there’s no doubt. Personally, I think that’s really good for artists, even though it might not always feel good. You definitely feel like you’re part of a beleaguered minority out here. For an artist, that’s not such bad thing.
Is the theatre culture still managing to thrive on some level?
We kind of stopped having a lot of culture in the States after 2008. Things have started to loosen up again now, but it was never good to begin with. I think the heyday of working in LA was really the 1980s. It’s coming around now, but I can’t predict how long that’s going to take or what’s in store. One other thing is that everyone is online now. That has good things about it, but also for theatre some not so good things.
Coming from the perspective of the more market-oriented LA, what’s your opinion concerning state funding of the arts?
Personally, I think state funding is actually a really smart thing to do. A lot of the cultural imbalances in the States could be linked to our backwards attitude towards art. Americans really hate questions that don’t have answers. And that’s what art is all about. As an artist, you want to shed light on some of these things that are hidden and see how things unfold. But America’s not going to fund this light bulb. I think if we took part of the budget for the defense department and put it toward the arts, America would instantly be a much better place. For any German officials reading your magazine: do not let this happen. Do not cut arts funding.
It seems like The Black Glass itself is about examining and questioning these values of capitalism and the free market…
It’s using a film noir frame to talk about capitalism as this kind of trickery where we are incentivised to lose our capacity for compassion. That’s essentially what we’re taught to do. In order to succeed as a competitive capitalist you have to cauterise your natural compassion for other beings. It’s no wonder that this is ending in a planetary death spiral and now everyone is waking up and saying “Wait a minute, this really isn’t a great place to be.” We’re really foreclosing on our future. That may sound really pansy, but it’s not that kind of play. It certainly isn’t a Kumbaya kind of play. It’s erotic too, it’s not just Sunday school.
Speaking of the erotic, this central issue of the play does revolve around a father’s investment in his daughter’s reputation, in a very old-fashioned sense.
The father is definitely selling the daughter. To me, it’s not about sexuality, it’s really about the complications of sexuality. His capacity for parental love makes him not as efficient as he wants to be as a competitive capitalist. I mean none of these ideas are particularly new, but that’s what I was playing with. I think this is more of a feminist play than not. In a lot of ways, the women are the protagonists because they are the ones that undergo a positive transformation.
How was the play received in consumerist Los Angeles?
Well, at the LA Fringe Festival we had three totally packed houses and people dug it. I think the reviews kind of split in a predictable way. The play was like a barrage and some people were like, that is a lot for me to take in. But, you know, it’s a funny play. It has a kind of anarchistic sense of humour that people responded to. So on that level it was a success.
I think most theatre in LA is apolitical mostly because political people have thrown up their hands and think it’s not worth talking about anymore. There’s a sort of atmosphere of complete resignation among progressives now. I think we had 40 years of intense class warfare from above, and finally the pendulum is being pushed back in the other direction, but I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s – it’s astonishing to think how different the political climate is now. That’s why The Black Glass has to do with the kind of trance that the culture is in.
The Black Glass, Feb 8-9, 20:00 | Ballhaus Ost, Pappelallee 15, Prenzlauer Berg, U-Bhf Eberswalder Str.