BURNING IN THE NIGHT: A HOBO'S SONG comes alive for two weeks in Feb. at two Arizona arts centers
An Interview with Richard Warren

Indie Theater Now asked Richard Warren a few questions about his play Burning in the Night.

What real person/event is the subject of this play, and why did you select this?

BURNING IN THE NIGHT follows the life of Dale Wasserman from runaway teen to legendary playwright (Man of La Mancha and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). Dale and I were friends until his death in 2008 at the age of 94. We met at least every Wednesday at 3:00pm and frequently talked about a memoir he had written and wished to turn into a stage play. Since it traced his hobo life from riding the rails to his days in New York and Hollywood, all in pursuit of freedom, I suggested he integrate some traditional railroad and folk music of the periods. He liked the idea and asked me to explore some possibilities which I did. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could hear anything. It was then that his wife Martha asked me pursue the project, which I gladly did.

What’s the playwright’s obligation as a reporter of fact? How do you figure out what’s actually “true” (or can you even do that)? Can stretching/shaping the facts ever be justified?

I feel that any artist's obligation is to convey the truth as he or she understands it. Obviously, when dealing with actual people or events, "facts" are involved. But even so called "facts" can be used to mislead. Therefore I feel an artist, whether of a play or a painting, should embrace "facts" honestly and faithfully in the pursuit of truth.

What kinds of research did you do in the creation of this play? What sources did you consult – books, movies, memoirs, websites, etc.?

In this case I had Dale's memoir to work with. But I did research his recollections to gain additional information and understanding. In some cases I discovered that events couldn't possibly have happened the way Dale described them. In these cases, pursuit of "the truth" always trumped a simple statement of "fact." I had to constantly reminded myself that Dale became famous because he was an artful and skilled storyteller.

Did your feelings about this topic change as you created this play? If so, in what way? What did you learn about yourself in this process?

By probing Dale's memoir in such an intimate way, I discovered human qualities in him I had previously been unaware of. The experience also forced me to reevaluate opinions I held that I hadn't paid much attention to.

Is there a particular playwriting school/style/genre that you particularly subscribe to? If you had to describe the style of this play in just a few words, what would you say?

Generally I write naturalistically about how ordinary people deal with the conflicts generated by their basic human emotions. Writing BURNING IN THE NIGHT was very different. Dale's memoir is almost an epic blank verse poem, so I tried to retain as much of that voice as possible while making the material more dramatic. The result is what I call "a memory play with music."

posted January 28, 2015