Donald Margulies

Playwright Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still played at the Cort Theatre from 23 Sep 2010 - 30 Jan 2011, and earlier at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre from 5 Jan - 27 Mar 2010.

September 2, 1954.

Place of birth?
Brooklyn, New York.

You now live in?
New Haven, Connecticut. Except for the three years my wife spent doing her residency at NYU, I have lived there happily since 1983. It's been a great place to work and raise a child. And it's only an hour and forty minutes from Grand Central.

Did you go to training school, if so which one?
I graduated from art school (Purchase College) with a BFA in visual arts and worked for a couple of years as a graphic designer. I was (very) briefly in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Brooklyn College back in the late seventies; my post-graduate career ended there after eight weeks. The bulk of my theater education came from participating in various playwriting groups, most notably The New York Writers' Bloc.

As an author, do you prefer writing for stage, TV or film?
I often work as a writer-for-hire in film and television (which means I get paid to write a lot scripts that never get made), but I will always write plays. My voice is at its purest when I write for the stage; the theater is my home and it is where I am treated with the most respect. I have come to see screenwriting as a kind of playwriting grant.

What was your first play performed by a professional company?
Luna Park, a long one-act inspired by Delmore Schwartz's short story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" was my off-off Broadway debut at the Jewish Repertory Theatre on 14th Street in 1982. My off-Broadway debut came two years later, when Joe Papp produced Found a Peanut at the Public.

Career highlight to date?
Being asked to write the foreword to the 2003 edition of Our Town.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
Don't be afraid to cut.

What is the most annoying part about your job?
Having to write. I love having written more than I love to write.

What inspired you to write Time Stands Still?
Like just about every play I've written, Time Stands Still came out of a feeling of disquiet. For a time I found myself awakening to the clock radio-alarm each morning with news of the latest car bombing in Iraq. That news, and the imagery it conjured both in my imagination and in newspaper coverage, began to haunt my days. Reconciling my life of relative safety and comfort in Connecticut with the horror taking place across the globe bedeviled me. I found that just about everyone I knew was grappling with the same jarring juxtaposition. I decided there must be a play lurking in that conundrum. I didn't want to write "an Iraq play" but I did want to tackle moral problems of our day, and I wanted to set it not in the war itself but in the familiarity of the homefront. The world of journalism has always fascinated me and I thought placing my characters in that high-stakes profession would give me a lot to draw on.

How you would describe Sarah Goodwin, the lead character in Time Stands Still?
Sarah is a smart, prickly, funny, flawed, capable, complicated woman who is passionate about her work as a photojournalist, perhaps to the detriment of intimate relationships in her life. She is not necessarily "likeable" but she is fascinating and, I think, very good company.

You are both a playwright and professor of English and Theatre Studies at Yale University. If you had not pursued a career in the theater what do you think you may have done instead?
I teach playwriting because I love it. Teaching fortifies me and gives structure and stimulation to otherwise amorphous weeks when I'm ostensibly writing. If I hadn't pursued playwriting, I probably would have remained a graphic designer. When I was a boy I wanted to be an architect. Playwriting isn't all that different.

Who are your favorite playwrights?
Chekhov is my main man. I also admire certain plays by Wilder, Pinter, Kushner, Churchill, Guare, Shawn - all of which, tellingly, are on the syllabus of my playwriting class at Yale.

What was the last book you read, and name some of your favorite authors?
I thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Must You Go?, Antonia Fraser's memoir of her life with Pinter was a guilty pleasure that was ultimately quite moving.

What was the last film you saw, and name some of your favorite movies?
Morning Glory. It's no Broadcast News (one of my all-time favorites) but I must admit I laughed a few times. And I love watching Rachel McAdams. Other noteworthy movies I saw this year: Winter's Bone, The Kids are All Right and The Social Network. A random sampling of all-time favorites: The Graduate, All About Eve, Primary Colors, The Lives of Others, Chinatown.

Favorite TV programs?
My current addictions, "Mad Men" and "Boardwalk Empire" are both on hiatus until next season so I have a couple of hours of my life back. "The Wire" was one of the most enthralling works of popular culture I've ever experienced. And "Slings and Arrows" one of the most pleasurable.

Favorite holiday destinations?
I'm not very good at vacations.

Do you have any hobbies?
I'm not very good at hobbies, either. I like to read and go to the movies. I'm a cheap date.

Do you have any superstitions?
I am a firm believer in the kunna hurra, which, roughly translated from the Yiddish, means the mere act of saying something hopeful out loud will ensure that it doesn't happen. Hence its being followed by saying tuy tuy tuy and spitting over one's shoulder to break the hex.

What are your future plans?
I've adapted Jeffrey Eugenides's wonderful novel Middlesex into a five-hour miniseries and am awaiting news of its fate at HBO; if that gets a green light I'm its co-executive producer. I'm gestating a new play and hope to write the book of a musical before I get too old. Also, a couple of revivals may be in the offing (kunna hurra, tuy tuy tuy)