Written by Lawrence Wright
Directed by Oskar Eustis
Main Season · Roda Theatre
March 8–April 21, 2013
Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, no intermission
Known around the world for his essays in The New Yorker and his bestselling books about al Qaeda and Scientology, Pulitzer Prize-winner Lawrence Wright also pens provocative plays. Now he turns the spotlight on a fellow reporter and her fascinating contradictions with the debut of Fallaci at Berkeley Rep. Legendary Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci gained fame by grilling Kissinger, Castro, Khomeini, Qaddafi and other public figures who squirmed under her ferocious questioning. In this world premiere, a young woman interviews the fiery author at the end of her life, when she became a darling of the right. What begins as a discussion of journalism ends with two women exchanging life-changing lessons about destiny and empathy. Don’t miss this sizzling new play staged by renowned director Oskar Eustis.
Lawrence Wright · Playwright
Oskar Eustis · Director
Robin Wagner · Scenic Design
Jess Goldstein · Costume Design
Michael Chybowski · Lighting Design
Acme Sound Partners · Sound Design
Angela Nostrand · Stage Manager
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Stephanie Klapper · Casting
David Peterson · Assistant Scenic Designer
China Lee · Assistant Costume Designer
Kate Ashton · Lighting Design Assistant
John VanWyden · Vocal Coach
Charles Lapointe · Wig Designer
Marjan Neshat · Maryam
Concetta Tomei · Oriana Fallaci
“Fascinating…Compelling…The subject is Oriana Fallaci, whose confrontational interviews made her the most famous—and, in many ways, influential—journalist of her era. The playwright is a longtime, award-winning staff writer for The New Yorker and author of eight books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Looming Tower (about radical Islam) and the much-in-the-news Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief. He’s also no stranger to drama; Wright has written four other plays, two of them solos that he’s performed. He’s set up this play, not surprisingly given the topic, as an interview…a verbal tango sharply and often seductively executed by [Concetta] Tomei and [Marjan] Neshat…It’s a good format for exploring Fallaci’s personal life—from teenage World War II anti-Fascist resistance fighter alongside her father, on through her prejudices and early celebrity as a dogged war correspondent—and for highlighting some of her most famous interviews (Fidel Castro, Henry Kissinger, Moammar Khadafy et al).”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Fascinating…Provocative…Oriana Fallaci basks in the limelight once more in the new play Fallaci, now in its world premiere at Berkeley Rep…As astutely portrayed by the formidable Concetta Tomei, Fallaci comes across as half warrior, half diva.”—San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group
“Gripping…Fallaci fascinates at Berkeley Rep…Oriana Fallaci was a fascinating, riveting person in real life, a crusading, eviscerating journalist whose intensity often made her part of the story. In journalist and playwright Lawrence Wright’s world-premiere play Fallaci at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Fallaci lives again, and true to form, she’s a compelling personality whose intelligence, drive and complicated emotional life provide an abundance of drama.”—Theater Dogs
Prologue: from the Artistic Director
There is a rare breed of human being that thrives on controversy. Where most of us seek tranquility, avoiding confrontation while attempting to keep discomfort, chaos and danger at bay, there are a few who literally and figuratively put themselves in harm’s way. They lead wildly exciting lives, as evidenced by the astonishing details of their various adventures. We love hearing stories about the terrifying risks they take to capture the truth of their death-defying experience. Sometimes, given the right measure of ambition, charisma and exposure, they become stars, cultural icons feeding off the adoration of a public hungry to live through their exploits. Oriana Fallaci, journalist, author and interviewer, was just such a person.
Whether reporting from a war zone in Vietnam or Pakistan or the Middle East, being shot three times and dragged by her hair in the middle of an uprising in Mexico, or aggressively confronting the world’s most powerful leaders, Fallaci continually thrust herself into the very vortex of human history. With a wanton disregard for her own safety, she decried power, championed the oppressed and refused to be intimidated. Combining her unquenchable passion with a disarming intelligence and astonishing beauty, Ms. Fallaci became a darling of the left and one of the first rock stars of modern journalism.
But for all the shocks she gave the world, perhaps the biggest came towards the end of her life when she wrote several inflammatory books severely criticizing Islam. The viciousness of her attacks left her vulnerable to charges of racism and hate-mongering. Suddenly, Oriana Fallaci was being linked to Ayn Rand. Controversy raged. Why had she done it? What was behind it? Who was she really?
Lawrence Wright became fascinated by these questions. A great journalist in his own right, Larry decided that the best way to get at the truth was through fiction. Armed with a tremendous amount of hard information about Fallaci, he set about inventing a dramatic situation that would get underneath the facts. A young Iranian journalist arrives at the end of Fallaci’s life to conduct an interview, but it becomes quickly apparent that this is no ordinary puff piece and at stake is nothing less than the meaning and legacy of Fallaci’s life. By guiding us into the imaginary recesses and crevices of her persona, Mr. Wright has given us a peek into the titanic contradictions that shaped Fallaci and which bind her to our collective history.
Producing this play has allowed me to exploit the talents of my good friend and colleague, Oskar Eustis. He brings the full measure of his skills, along with a great cast and design team. It is a great pleasure to have them all in our playground.
Prologue: from the Managing Director
Among the many qualities that Lawrence Wright captures in his incisive play about Oriana Fallaci is her ability to examine the hearts of her subjects in search of deeper meanings and hidden truths. When I attended the first rehearsal, I was seated across from Larry, where I could watch his face as he listened to these two powerful actresses bring his words to life. I had the delicious sense that I was witness to a tutorial, taught by the best, in the art of teasing out meaning. They were finding the loose strand in a ball of yarn, undoing the knots, discovering the center.
When I returned to my office, one of the emails waiting for me was a copy of the letter that retired high-school teacher Kenneth Bernstein had written to university professors preparing to teach the first class of students who had been educated under No Child Left Behind. Reprinted in the Washington Post, his letter is a condemnation of an educational system that has abandoned critical thinking for rote learning and that has abdicated the quest for meaning at the expense of scoring. The latest step, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), promises to produce a generation of scientists and engineers who will make us competitive in the global marketplace. If only it were so.
Last November, Adobe released a study, “Creativity and Education: Why It Matters,” which sheds new light on the role of creativity in career success. In the study, 85 percent of young professionals agreed that creative thinking is critical for problem-solving in their career, and 82 percent wish they had more exposure to creative thinking as students.
What subjects did these young professionals say would make significant contributions to creative thinking? The top three: art, music and English. But since the mid-1980s, there has been a steady decline in funding for arts education. Since the introduction of No Child in 2003 that decline has accelerated, accompanied by a decline in the time spent on critical thinking, creative thinking and even classroom discussion. Our educational system can no longer turn a good technician into a great research scientist, or a good businessperson into a great citizen.
Journalists like Oriana Fallaci and Larry Wright have both the skill to critically assess information and the capacity to think creatively about how to uncover the truth from their subjects. One of the ironies in Larry’s play is the idea that truth is not objective. How do we reconcile that contradiction? One of the questions in his play is the meaning of Oriana’s life. The search for meaning is integral to who we are. The answers can’t be found in a multiple-choice test.
At Berkeley Rep, we strive to be advocates for STEAM (science and technology, engineering and the arts, and math) because we believe that the innovative practices of art and design play an essential role in improving STEM education. Learn more at steamedu.com. It’s our fervent belief that the arts should have an integral role in our educational system, that the arts contribute to creative thinking and success in the workplace and that the arts increase our capacity to search for meaning. Let’s make sure we are training the next Oriana Fallaci and the next Larry Wright. I hope you will join the effort to place the A in STEAM.
Oriana Fallaci: A life of resistance
By Julie McCormick
A date of birth usually seems like a logical—if somewhat uninspiring—way to begin the account of a life. Not so with Oriana Fallaci. An inveterate storyteller, she was constantly telling and revising the story of herself. From her childhood as a resistance fighter in Italy during World War II to a long career as a daring and high-profile war journalist, Fallaci’s life was by turns exciting, glamorous and dangerous, yet always controversial. As one Fallaci burned brightly, another rose from the ashes, requiring a constant renegotiation of her identity and retelling of the facts (much to the consternation of more pedantic journalists). Sometimes aggressive, sometimes charming, but always passionate, Fallaci lived her life in the same limelight as the stories she told about the world.
Though she would travel extensively and meet many important people over the years, Oriana Fallaci was ever her parents’ daughter. According to Fallaci and those who write about her, the many selves that she presented to the world—revolutionary, intellectual, hard-working journalist and novelist—all originate in some way with her parents’ influence.
Perhaps Fallaci’s story really begins when she was 14, and the fascists in Italy came to power under Mussolini. Her father was a courageous resistance fighter, and enlisted the help of his eldest daughter Oriana (rebaptized with the code name “Emilia”) to deliver explosives and subversive newspapers, and to guide Allied POWs through Italian lines. It has been suggested by Fallaci herself that this is where her political convictions and hatred of power originated.
The tale of Fallaci as an artist, however, might begin a little earlier. Though neither of her parents went through higher education, both were voracious readers who held learning in reverential esteem. Money was usually tight for the Fallacis, but there was always a few lire set aside to buy the great works of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Dickens on installment plans. The young Oriana fell in love at an early age, particularly with the stirring fiction of adventure writers. She often attributed her desire to be an author to reading Jack London’s The Call of the Wild when she was 9 years old.
These early literary escapades also shaped Fallaci’s peripatetic spirit. Many of the places that she loved to go in books—such as Jack London’s America and Rudyard Kipling’s India—became important destinations for the adult writer. Her parents fiercely encouraged her to be strong and independent—Fallaci would recall her mother warning her not to become stuck as a wife and mother, “a slave” to the desires of others, and her father’s severe adjuration that “girls do not cry” while they were hiding in a bombed-out church.
After the war, she studied hard and graduated high school at 16 with impressively high marks in the classics, philosophy and literature. Though she wished nothing more than to begin a career as a writer, her parents’ insistence to get more education in something practical and lucrative convinced her to become a doctor. Medical school was an expensive pursuit, however, so Fallaci got a job as a reporter at a local newspaper in order to support her studies. It became clear early on that medicine was not for her, so she dropped out in her first year to work at the newspaper full time.
After five years of writing society pieces, Fallaci finally got her big break when she was hired by one of Italy’s largest and most prestigious newspapers, L’Europeo. Her literary style had caught the editor’s eye, and soon she was traveling all over the world conducting high-profile interviews. In the ‘50s and ‘60s she spent months at a time in New York and Hollywood, writing about stars like Joan Collins, Sean Connery, Ava Gardner and Orson Welles. These celebrities were glamorous enough in themselves, but Fallaci had a knack for putting herself and her opinions into her stories. Her writing was entertaining, exciting and read more like a literary character sketch than a typical, dry news article. Though perhaps Fallaci got more attention in the pieces than her subjects, and there were often arguments about misquotations and authenticity, Fallaci’s unique approach helped to create a greater sense of immediacy and contact—it felt like you were really alongside Fallaci and Gregory Peck or Clark Gable. With her vivacious wit, sharp tongue and short temper, Fallaci soon became as famous as her subjects. (It also didn’t hurt that she was stunningly beautiful and had excellent taste in clothes and jewelry.)
Following her stint in Hollywood, Fallaci went on a long tour of Asia to write about the condition of women there, and conducted a series of interviews with astronauts preparing to go to the moon. Though she continued to interview the rich and glamorous, Fallaci’s work as a journalist took a turn for the serious and political when the Vietnam War broke out. She insisted on being sent to the front lines, and went back on numerous occasions to share cigarettes with American soldiers in the thick of the fighting, badger commanders and political leaders on both sides of the conflict, and conduct rigorous interviews with North Vietnamese resistance fighters. This began her long career as a war correspondent, which is how many remember her best. Time and again she was drawn back to the front lines, at no small cost to herself. In 1968 she was in Mexico reporting on student protests when she was shot three times in a police raid. The government attempted to cover up the atrocities it had committed, and it was through reporters like Fallaci that the world was able to learn the extent of the violence.
It was also during the ‘70s and ‘80s that Fallaci conducted interviews with some of the world’s most (in)famous political figures: the Ayatollah Khomeini, Indira Gandhi, Yasser Arafat, Golda Meir and Deng Xiaoping. Armed with a fierce anger and a tape recorder, Fallaci manipulated her subjects into opening up in ways they never had before. “I went to write a portrait,” she said of these flawed individuals who somehow had the power to decide the fates of us all. These combative and lengthy interviews (a session could last up to six or seven hours) caused an international uproar for the truths they revealed and for the sheer audacity of what she had done. Many journalists have studied “the art of the Fallaci interview,” and some have learned it with great success. Most, however, fail to make it the theatrical event she did. After a while, politicians wised up and would refuse to give her interviews after the disastrous conversations she had with Qaddafi and Kissinger, for example.
But Fallaci had been doing more in this time than just reporting (and making) the news. She was also writing books. Her career as a journalist went a long way towards satisfying a lifelong wanderlust and a parental imperative to work; however, Fallaci still found herself longing to write stories in the tradition of her beloved Kipling, London and Dostoyevsky. As she said in an interview with Charlie Rose, “When you write an article, a piece of reportage, you have to stay within the limits of facts, of what really happened,” but literature “universalizes the truth.” She wrote a number of novels over the years, including If the Sun Dies, Letter to a Child Never Born, A Man (a tribute to her lover, Alekos Panagoulis) and Inshallah. Though crafted as fiction, each book had strong autobiographical elements or drew from her investigative journalism. Her biographer, Santo L. Aricò (who had a serious falling out with Fallaci), asserts that her writing, whether a piece of reportage or fiction, always came back to a similar aim—to put Fallaci and her experience at the center of her writing, using a literary style. No doubt some of his more disparaging comments had something to do with his personal clashes with “La Fallaci,” including one notable phone conversation in which she demanded he burn an earlier draft of his biography. Her literary, theatrical approach to journalism was in some ways more honest—for it included her biases and opinions—but also can make it more difficult to identify facts.
Fallaci retreated from the public eye in the ‘90s while battling breast cancer, but exploded back into the spotlight after 9/11. In the cacophony of anger, despair and shock, her distinctive voice rang out from the rest with an uncompromising condemnation of Islam and the entire Muslim world. The Rage and The Pride (2001 Italy, 2002 U.S.) and The Force of Reason (2004 Italy, 2006 U.S.) have sold millions of copies in Italy. The left-leaning daughter of socialists and lifelong enemy of fascism and power abuses suddenly became the champion of rightist anti-immigration and Islamophobic movements.
An impossible contradiction? Perhaps, but most certainly not the first controversy with Fallaci at the heart of it. When interviewed in a piece for The Observer about The Rage and the Pride, Fallaci claimed that her journalistic success was because she never tried to be objective:
Objectivity, she said, was “a hypocrisy which has been invented in the West which means nothing. We must take positions. Our weakness in the West is born of the fact of so-called ‘objectivity.’ Objectivity does not exist—it cannot exist!…The word is a hypocrisy which is sustained by the lie that the truth stays in the middle. No, sir: Sometimes truth stays on one side only.”
But even if “truth stays on one side only,” it doesn’t mean that it stays on the same side all of the time. Even seemingly hard facts and quotations are subject to context and interpretation—Fallaci faced accusations over her entire career about not reporting “strict truths” or changing her stories about herself (even ones that had been published) and then vehemently denying that it had ever been otherwise.
It is difficult to look for truths about people in their biographies, because as Fallaci herself suggests, the emotional truth does not always coincide neatly with literal facts. Larger than life and driven by a searing passion, she was by turns combative, proud and egocentric, and yet always a brave and fiercely talented writer who redefined the face of journalism.
The marriage of theatre and journalism
A conversation with Lawrence Wright
By Madeleine Oldham
Lawrence Wright’s bio does not do justice to the breadth of his interests and skills. He seems to have a blazing curiosity about the world around him that transforms simply following his nose into something of a conduit for our collective consciousness. He’s developed a finely tuned ability to tap into some of the most pressing questions of our time: What is the nature of power? How is an extremist born? What makes someone decide to take a leap of faith? He inevitably discovers complex yet illuminating answers. Madeleine Oldham, Berkeley Rep’s director of The Ground Floor and resident dramaturg, had a chance to talk with Wright about his writing and storytelling.
Madeleine Oldham: You seem to have so many talents—you’ve been a journalist, you’ve written screenplays, books, plays, and the internet tells me you play keyboard in a band.
Lawrence Wright: Yeah, we had a gig on Saturday night.
Amazing. Have you always been such a multifaceted person, or have you diversified as you’ve gotten older?
Well, except for the piano playing, which is just a fierce hobby of mine, all of it is just writing. I express my writing in a number of different areas, but I think they’re fundamentally similar. Basically, I work from reality, and that’s my orientation. It starts with being a journalist. I find there are other ways of exploring real events and real people, and writing plays is just one of them. I use the same techniques that I use in my journalism to write plays or novels or screenplays.
That’s really interesting, actually. Because the structure of a play must be different than the structure of a journalistic piece—did you do any research or homework, or did you just sort of forge ahead?
Oh yeah. I began by reading all of Oriana’s works that I could get hold of, and I also interviewed people who knew her. Isabella Rossellini, for instance, was a great friend of Oriana’s and she was extremely helpful to me. After Fallaci died, Isabella had never been in Oriana’s bedroom, and when she was helping Oriana’s nephew, who was the executor of the estate, clean up the apartment she asked if she could go into the bedroom and it turned out it was full of dolls.
That’s where the doll came from in the play. Isabella told me that story, among other things; she was very helpful. I also went to Boston where Fallaci’s papers are kept, at Boston University. Vita Paladino runs the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center and she gave me access to Fallaci’s papers and some of the tapes of her interviews. She also knew Fallaci very well and was extremely helpful. So, I do all the reading, I interview pertinent sources and just take notes. Then, just as I do with my journalism, I make note cards and file them under different headings. What’s different about writing a play from a book or an article is that when I’m using those note cards I also compile notes for scenes. Then when I get enough of a stack of such scenes I close the door and turn off the phone and lay them out into acts, or, in this case, three scenes. Then I can see chronologically where things need to go and dramatically where they need to go. In that way I began to build the architecture.
How has the script evolved over the course of writing it? Have you learned anything new from the process of writing this particular play?
Oh yeah. I learned a lot historically, because I learned a good deal about Fallaci that I didn’t know before, and also about Iran. You know, Fallaci is a real character, so in many ways writing her was an easier task for me. She left a legacy of an enormous body of work and she was a very controversial and outspoken character, so there was a lot to draw upon. But I felt that one could not let her views go unchallenged, especially in the later part of her life. So I had to invent a foil. Maryam is the creature that I contrived to be both Oriana’s antagonist and her sort of protégé. She’s a complicated figure but it took me into an interesting world. I drew a lot upon people, especially women, whom I had met in the Muslim world, to write about Maryam.
We see some theatre and art about the Middle East, but in proportion to what goes on in the news, it doesn’t seem to me like there’s that much of it. Would you agree with that? And if so, why do you think that might be?
I do agree with that observation. The way that I’d answer that is: I’ve been very interested in the marriage of journalism and theatre. At first glance it seems like an awkward arrangement. The first time I was exposed to this possibility was in 1992 when I went to see Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror at The Public Theater.
She had gone out and interviewed all these people that were involved in the Crown Heights tragedy and then embodied them using their actual words. Now, I could never do that kind of thing myself as an actor, but I was very inspired by her example of taking journalism and making it into theatre. I just didn’t know it was possible. And then, later I did two one-man shows that were to some extent motivated by Anna Deavere Smith’s example. But continually, when I’m writing plays or screenplays, I like to use real people and real events as much as possible. I feel like this is a rich direction for both journalism and theatre, which both suffered because of economic problems and changes in technology; it’s a way of communicating real events to people in a much more intimate fashion.
Okay wait—I’m going back to one of my first questions for one second because you humbly suggested that all these other things you do—aside from playing keyboard—were writing. But you just mentioned that you performed two one-man shows, which is something totally different from writing…
You think so, Madeleine.
From my point of view it was still journalism.
Even the performance part?
Yes. When I finished my book The Looming Tower, a lot of people were asking me, “What was it like when you were over there and talking to all those people? What did you think?” I’m not a character in the book, but I thought that it would be interesting to explore those questions because I hadn’t really taken the time to analyze myself. So I wrote this first one-man show, My Trip to Al-Qaeda, and used videos and still photography and music and so on to help people place themselves in my spot. And through that I hoped that I could explain to them what it’s like to be in that part of the world and to talk to people whose views are so radically different from our own. I see that as a kind of journalism, as a kind of reporting, and in many ways I think that’s what the original reporters must have done, imagining where journalism came from in the first place. I kind of envision a group of people sitting around a fire wondering what’s over the hill. And somebody goes over the hill and comes back and says what he saw. Well, that’s the feeling I had when I was standing on the stage and I was talking to people whose faces I could barely see, it was like they were around the fire and I was telling them what I saw when I went over the hill.
Did you get nervous at all?
Honestly, no. I used to be very anxious about speaking in public, and actually it was a witch in the Bay Area who helped me. Her name was Starhawk, I don’t know if she’s still around, she was a pretty famous witch and she wrote a number of books. I was interviewing her for an article I was doing and I happened to confide that I was going back to Austin to make a speech and I had never really made a big public speech, and my voice gets high and my knees start knocking. She said, “We witches have a saying: where there’s fear there’s power.”
I wasn’t sure what it meant but it sounded very powerful and meaningful. So I took it to mean that I wasn’t really frightened of, you know, peeing in my pants, I was really frightened of being the kind of person who could stand up and confidently talk in public. I began to analyze those kinds of fears when they occur with performing and speaking in public. I know now that that was an irrational, needless fear on my part, and now I just don’t have that sensation of stage fright.
That’s so interesting. You mentioned you analyzed this about yourself—is that a skill that you have that you use when you’re talking to other people? Do you feel like you have to be able to read people, including yourself, in your line of work?
I think you have to be able to be deeply empathic, and imagine how another person feels and where they came from in order to genuinely understand them. That’s part of what Fallaci’s lesson is in this play. You know, there’s a relationship between the reporter and the subject and it can be very aggressive, it can be erotic, it can be full of conflict, but from the beginning it’s a profound relationship and the reporter has a tremendous amount of power. One holds the reputation of the other person in your hands, and so one has to be cautious about how you use that kind of power. On the other hand, you have an obligation to your reader to get to the bottom of what’s going on with this person. That’s why they’re reading you in the first place.
Was Fallaci someone you’ve been interested in for a long time, or did you stumble on her in some way and decide “Oh, I must write something?”
I had been very influenced by her. Every reporter of my age would have known her and been affected by her, because for a time she was the most influential reporter in the world. She was before the confrontation journalism of 60 Minutes—she created that kind of journalism. She had a way of wringing the truth out of people that no one else could get. It was like magic. It was extremely dramatic and it awakened in me the idea that journalism could be a real profession.
So in the play Maryam is writing Fallaci’s obituary while Fallaci is still alive. I understand that’s a common practice. Is that true, and is that something you’ve ever done?
No, I’ve never done it. There are only several newspapers that do it religiously, and that’s why I made the Times the employer of Maryam, because they have a staff of obit writers. They go out and write these preliminary obituaries that are then filed away. The information is supposed to be kept confidential until the subject passes away. So, sometimes, people say things to their obituary writers that they would never confide to contemporaries because they know that these words aren’t going to be used until after they’re gone.
And did you always have that idea for the play?
Yes, I just thought it was a really interesting relationship. Just imagine, an ordinary reporter carries a tremendous burden of responsibility, but an obit writer has an extra amount of that because—as Fallaci says—this is the final judgment. This is the summing up. When people go back and look for an account of a person, oftentimes what they’ll get is their obituary. And I think in a kind of existential universe it passes for the last judgment.
I think a big part of writing, obituary or otherwise, is choosing what to include and what to leave out.
What’s the most interesting thing you had to leave out of the play?
Hm, that’s a hard one. Let me think about that.
Or maybe not the most, but an interesting thing.
Well, I had to make it two women. There were other personalities that could have been brought into this—I would’ve included some of Oriana’s friends. I even thought about doing flashbacks and seeing her in action as a young reporter, a confrontational journalist, so it was a choice on my part to narrow it down to just two individuals and see the changes in their relationship. A movie might take a different approach, because you could span it over a longer period of time, and maybe even have several different people playing Oriana. I thought it’d be more interesting to see all the changes compressed into these two personalities.
The challenge, when matching a real character like Oriana Fallaci with an invented one like Maryam, is to make the imagined personality equally vivid and authentic. When I finished an early draft of the play, I realized that Maryam bore a certain resemblance to Christiane Amanpour, the distinguished Iranian-British journalist. She told me that, like Maryam, she had idolized Fallaci as a young reporter, and had sought her out—in fact, she had actually contacted Fallaci through Rizzoli’s, the same way as Maryam does in the script. When imagination begins to coincide with real events, that’s when you know you’re on the right track.
It seems like you are very skilled at taking gigantic amounts of information and distilling them and synthesizing them into a story that makes sense for people.
Is that something that you’ve always known how to do, or did you have to teach yourself how to do that? And does it show up in other parts of your life, other than just your professional life?
Well, I think that my journalism informs my dramatic writing. But it is also true that my dramatic writing informs my journalism. You know, I’ve written plays and screenplays for many years. I’ve come to appreciate the fact that vivid, intense writing is very similar in both respects. Because they depend on great scenes and great characters, and if you have those elements—whether it’s a play or a movie or an article or a book—it’s going to be much more powerful than it could be otherwise. So now, in my journalism, I search for scenes and I report them. If I find something that’s going to be a very interesting scene, I’ll spend a great deal of time soliciting information to enlarge that and make it more consequential. I also try to find wonderful characters that can take us into a world that we might not otherwise be able to enter or care about. So in those ways my dramatic writing has certainly enlarged my sense of what journalism can do. But the converse is that I bring in to the theatre a sense of reality and the outside world. I look for creating a feeling of authenticity that you might not have otherwise because these are actually reported events.
There’s a lot of talk these days about where journalism is headed—is it evolving, is it dying, is it changing, etc. Where do you think it’s headed?
Well, it’s in a rocky spot right now. I think information is always going to be valuable, so I don’t think journalism is going to disappear in a chaotic, fluid world such as the one we’re really entering right now. Information becomes an even higher premium, so I think people will pay for information. The question is, how do you keep valuing it in a connected world where people want things for free?
It’s interesting to me: theatre is the last refuge of the non-digital world. It’s the only thing that I know of, in terms of artistic expression, where it has to be done live. That’s what theatre is.
It’s un-reproducible. Each is a unique occasion, each performance is unique. So in the era of digital replication theatre seems like an intriguing point of refuge for, perhaps, journalism. Magazines and newspapers are struggling; many of them are going out of business. You know, I have many, many reporter friends—former reporter friends—who’ve been shoved out of their jobs. And yet they still have those skills and people still want the information. I would like to see theatre become a refuge for people like that, and they would become a resource for a new kind of theatre. A kind of nonfiction theatre.
Like the Living Newspaper and the Federal Theatre Project?
Yeah. In my experience people are fascinated by things they know to be true. I think when you have this sense that there is a floor of reality under these momentous events that we’re talking about and these earth-shaking characters that every writer looks for, it adds a certain zest and thrill to the experience. I could see that this might actually be a new direction for theatre and for journalism.
I love that idea. Yes, please. I just have one last question for you, which is what haven’t you done yet that you’d like to do?
Well gosh, I’ve just finished this book about Scientology—
Yes! I can’t wait to read it!
It’ll be out in January and I’m looking for a new project. It could be another play or another book. I just don’t know. Right now I’m in the romantic stage of looking for a new match. When you find a subject that you really kindle to, then you know that’s exactly what you want as a writer. I think the real mystery in the creative process is not the actual process of writing, which has so many workshops on it that you could never run out of them, but what we chose to write about in the first place and why we give ourselves one subject rather than another. And why, in the vast universe of possibilities, it’s so hard to find those things you want to write about. But when the subject comes along that is compelling enough that you’re willing to devote months or years of your life to it, then there’s a sense of charge and of excitement. But it has to reach a certain threshold because it’s such an enormous commitment and it rules out other possibilities. And so, I’m in that moment right now, of looking for that next thing.
Meet Oriana Fallaci
This captivating video gives you a sneak peek at Fallaci, our new world premiere about one of the first rock stars of modern journalism.