PLAYWRIGHT JOHN GUARE IS probably best-known for his play Six Degrees of Separation, though he also wrote the screenplay for Louis Malles film Atlantic City. After receiving an Obie for Muzeeka in 1968, he received a Tony for his libretto of Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1972. That was the year after hed stunned the New York theater scene with his offbeat comedy The House of Blue Leaves, about a Bronx zookeeper/songwriters delirious quest for fame. In that play, the zookeepers brother, a Hollywood talent agent, pays a visit to the zookeeper. The zookeepers AWOL son bursts in and performs an impromptu dance performance of The Dying Swan for his uncle, the agent, who remarks that he hadnt been aware his nephew was mentally retarded. The talent agent was based on Guares uncle, Billy Grady, famous for dismissing Fred Astaire with the screen-test report: Balding, cant sing, cant act, can dance a little. The boy was Guares remembrance of himself.
In 1982, Guare wrote a historical drama, Lydie Breeze, which, over several years, hes expanded into a two-play cycle, then a three-play cycle, then reconfigured back into two plays. The Open Fist Theater is currently presenting the original 1982 version. Speaking to the Weekly from New York, Guare remarked that when he was trying to explain to the actors who the characters were in Lydie Breeze, he figured it would be simpler to write a second play, and then a third. Each play reaches further back in time, from 1895 to the Civil War.
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I had spent a lot of time in Nantucket, my mothers and fathers families are both from Nantucket, Guare explained about his fascination with the plays setting. It suddenly became as though Nantucket was this umbrella for all my plays. All my plays had been about New York. I wanted to write plays where I didnt know where I was, where I would have to find out what it was they didnt know. I also wanted to find a new way to speak. I know how I talked, I wanted to take that away, I wanted to paint myself in a new corner and see if I could get out. Thats what a writers life is, when you have to follow something, when you start a play you dont know if its going to take you a weekend or five years.