Director Anne Kauffman (far left) and playwright Noah Haidle (second from…
Noah Haidle enjoys writing surrealist plays that ask big questions and would fail anywhere except on the stage. Anne Kauffman enjoys directing avant-garde works that ask big questions and rely on the confines of a theater to come to life.
In April, Haidle—a Detroit-based playwright and screenwriter whose credits include the Al Pacino-Christopher Walken film, "Stand Up Guys"—and Kauffman—an Obie Award-winning New York-based director whose work includes "Belleville" at Steppenwolf—teamed up for the world premiere of "Smokefall" at California's prestigious South Coast Repertory. The magical realism drama centers around a woman about to give birth to twins who squabble amongst themselves in utero. She believes in love even though her father is becoming senile, her daughter has stopped speaking and her husband is covertly planning to leave her.
Now, the two bring "Smokefall" to the Goodman. But their love for experimentation has led Haidle to make major revisions to the play, including a new third act. And Kauffman—half of whose design team is new for this production—has re-envisioned the staging for the new space. So for both, it's a brand new play all over again.
We met them during a rehearsal break, where the team was working out Haidle's latest revisions, to find out more.
Go: 8 p.m. Saturday through Nov. 3 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.
Tickets: $10-$40. 312-443-3800; goodmantheatre.org/smokefall
How he heightens the existentialist elements: "Most of the vocabulary of the actual real existential questions is the [twin] fetuses'. I would never put that language in a character's mouth if they were in reality. So I thought it was just funny—I mean, the dichotomy of [also giving those characters] fart jokes."
His approach to making a play: "I feel like a play is as real as a football game is. A football game is not real life. The same with a play—it's not real life. Film and TV do verisimilitude better than a play ever can. So why pretend? Tell a story that's impossible to do anywhere else. This play would make a [bleep]y movie. I wouldn't want to watch it. I mean, how would you do the [twin] fetuses? Move them around in fluid? That's terrible."
Why some classics don't lend themselves to adaptation: "'The Great Gatsby' is a [bleep]y movie every time they make it, because once you literalize Daisy, no one can be beautiful enough to incite this much passion. And so once you see it, it's wrong. Or like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "100 Years of Solitude"—that would be terrible! Those are only able to be narrative function things.
Sometimes in real life, sports trumps the arts: "There was an article in the Grand Rapids press that said, "Local tennis star writes play." [laughs] I was very good at tennis in high school."
During his downtime: "I've done those little blue bike-y things [Divvy bikes]. They put us up downtown, which is quite noisy. So it's nice to ride down the [lake]. And it looks like a romantic comedy version of Chicago. I took the cast on one of the night architecture tours; that was fun. And we went to a play. Last night we saw 'The Crownless King,' by The House Theatre. It was neat! I had no idea what I was going to when I walked in. They must have had a stage direction that said, 'Enter the dragon,' cause there was a big [bleep]ing dragon. I'm like, that's a rare stage direction; you don't read that too much."
His Divvy bikes experiences: "I grew up on the west side of Michigan, where Lake Michigan is always on the west, so you can always tell where you're going based on that. And Chicago's exactly backwards so I get very confused with it. I feel like I'm going north when it's on the left. ... I'm surprised no one's gotten killed doing those bikes. The [bleep]holes like me who are just like, [gazes upward and points] 'Look at the buildings!' You're on those paths and people that own bikes and know where they're going look at you like, 'Meh. You're on one of the blue bikes.' They're all hardcore dudes. And I'm like, 'I'm sorry; I'm just on a rental.'"
His "Stand Up Guys" on-set experience: "I had an all-access pass and no discernible function so I was just wandering around. I was an extra—my hand is playing pool. I got to ride in the back of a stunt car. I got my hair cut a couple times [laughs] by people. It was great."
What surprised him about film work: "It was so inspiring—and this is not bull[bleep]—to see how much everyone wanted to come to work. Everybody, from top to bottom, they all were so happy to be there. Most inspiring was the location manager who talked about why he loved movies and how he's scouting locations and why he loves it."
What he learned about filmmaking: "It's a moveable feast. You can have 200 people, big-ass trucks, shoot stuff, police presence and in 30 minutes, it's gone like it never happened. And the only record is this [piece of film]. That was amazing."