Tony Abatemarco Comments - Thoughts on Writing "Forever House"

Skylight Theatre Company will soon launch the world premiere of playwright/actor/director Tony Abatemarco’s “Forever House.” Tony draws from some of his personal experiences to flesh out the characters in his newest theatrical contribution. Now that gay couple Jack and Ben have found each other and decided to commit, the next step seems to be respectability, growing up, and becoming suburbanized. What better way than to buy a house, along with a first mortgage and all that goes with assimilating and fitting in. What could possibly go wrong? 

 

Tony Abatemarco has won awards for writing (LA Weekly, Dramalogue), and he has directed for Broadway (Julie Harris in “Lucifer’s Child”) and London’s West End (Robyn Peterson’s “Catwalk Confidential”). Around and between his directing and writing short stories and plays, Tony has found time to act, his first love, for most of his life. All of these random experiences coalesced into his newest play, “Forever House,” opening at the Skylight Theatre on January 23, 2016.  

 

On December 28, 2015, Tony was interviewed about “Forever House” and shared some of his thoughts and ideas about the play and how it came about.

 

 

WHAT MOVED YOU TO WRITE THIS PLAY?

 

It was really a distraction from worrying about the last play I was writing and being concerned about how long it would take to get going. A friend suggested that I write another play, and I thought it was a good idea. I had this idea about a gay couple with personal issues...how comic and unexpected things come up when they buy a house together. 

 

I read this article by Dominique Browning in “Vanity Fair” about her home in Connecticut. She always considered it her “forever home,” but then she had to sell it when her job took her to other places. That gave me an idea for the title. When I thought about it, I saw a house as a residing place for two people’s commitment and love. Now my husband and I have been in the same house for 30 years. When we bought it, it was a handyman special carriage house built in 1905. We had to do a lot of work on it. I decided to take the biggest events in those 30 years of living there and consolidate them into the first year. The play isn’t autobiographical, but it’s infused with personal experiences. The universe laughs when the unforeseen and unexpected come up. Having a house is like committing to another person...it’s something universal whether you’re straight or gay. Either way, it’s a serious commitment.

 

WHEN YOU WRITE A PLAY, DO YOU HAVE AN AUDIENCE IN MIND?

 

I never have an audience in mind when I first write a play. I begin as a writer entertaining myself; I write for me. It’s part of my personal journey. But then in rehearsal, as the play takes form, I start to think about who the audience will be. Before that, I wanted to perfect it, get it to where it works.  

 

I first became a “public” writer collaborating on plays like “Brain Hotel” in 1981 when I was 29 years old. Before that, I was an actor who wrote in my private journals. I see my plays as extensions of my acting. Writing plays is one aspect of being a storyteller. Acting requires every inch of me. Turning that into a play is much more focused. but it’s still all about being a storyteller.

 

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE MAJOR ISSUES IN MAKING RELATIONSHIP COMMITMENTS? IS THIS ANY DIFFERENT IN THE LGBT COMMUNITY?

 

It might be a little different between straight and gay because gay people were persecuted for so long, and the memory of that can amplify distrust. “Forever House” is about a gay couple in their 30's involved in a relationship between the two of them and also between them and the house. The house is representative of self. In the play, Jack, one of the partners, was born in this house. Both of them are really excited getting the house where Jack was born. That allows for the element of ghosts in the house that Jack must come to terms with. If one of the partners hasn’t resolved an issue, it will be an issue for the other partner too. The house is also about the unresolved issue of self-loathing. Jack is a really accomplished adult; he’s the executive vice president at a high tech firm. He has compensated for self-loathing by becoming really competent in his corporate life. 

 

I’ve found that many people I know carry self-loathing around with them, but it’s disguised. Most successful people I know have this hidden part. I read a book, “Rewrites,” by Neil Simon. He was tortured because people were laughing at his plays…even though they were comedies. He felt they were laughing at him. It’s interesting that this fear from when a kid is five or six years old can still be present in many adults. People overcompensate to cover up inadequacies. In a committed couple, this fear will get exaggerated if they don’t come to terms with it. 

 

I think that this is related, on a universal level, to everybody. Commitment is a frightening notion - to find somebody who is really in love with you and then decide to make it permanent. It’s difficult to enter a relationship because you’re afraid to give up independence and your sense of self. I’ve been in a relationship for 37 years, and issues still come up. But they’re more defined and workable now. Now I know the sacrifice of independence is worth trading in for the benefits of commitment. Still, unspoken demons, things we thought we resolved a long time ago, remain.  Some of those demons found their way into my play.

 

HOW DO YOU COMPARE WORKING ON BROADWAY TO WORKING IN A SMALL THEATER? DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE?

 

I love the hands-on quality of working in a small theater. You’re so directly involved. Unions control so much on Broadway, so you can’t really say anything. Let’s look at it this way. If you go from LA to San Francisco, you can fly or ride a bike. It’s the same destination, but the experiences are far different. On a bike, you see so much along the way. The same is true for a Broadway play. For the last 25 or 30 years, we’re really aware of the importance of success. It costs millions of dollars to promote, market, and support everything else a new play needs. There’s less opportunity to experiment, to be free, or to fail. Small theaters allow new plays. When I got to direct a show in London in 2009, I found that everybody - right down to the ushers - had a working knowledge of the play. On Broadway, a lot is taken over by corporations in commercial theater. Being in London stimulated me the way I was in high school. In small theater, even though I’m the writer, I have the opportunity to do a lot of different things. I can check on the building, and I’m in on casting. I’m engaged on every level, and I’m gluing things together. It’s exciting and creative. 

 

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER WORKS IN PROGRESS AT THIS TIME? 

 

I’ve got a file of short stories I want to continue working on. I have a couple of ideas for plays too. Once I finish with this one, I can turn my attention to those other ideas. My next play won’t be a distraction. I’ll focus on something I want to develop. Right now, I’m working on a play about teaching. I’ve been a teacher in the Emeritus College in Santa Monica for 20 years, and I love my enthusiastic senior students. I’ve been teaching acting at USC since 2005. It’s not true that you teach if you can’t do. For me, I do everything. Teaching is a way of kindling learning. 

 

I wanted to add something important. I worked for five years on this play, and I have to credit all the actors who helped with each draft. We would get together as a group of actors, read the draft, and give opinions. Actors have been directly instrumental in developing this play – and, of course, Elizabeth Swain, the director, as well.

 

FOREVER HOUSE opens on January 23, 2016 at 8 p.m. Performances are at 8:30 p.m. on Fridays, 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 3 p.m. on Sundays through February 28, 2016. The Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 ½ North Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027. Tickets are $34. For reservations, call 213-761-7061 or go online at http://skylighttix.com.

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