Accentuating His “Positive”

by Joe Brown

“WASHINGTON seems to be a very loyal town,” says playwright Harry Kondoleon, who lives in what he calls “very provincial” New York. “If they like a play of someone’s, it’s lovely that they’ll try his other plays.”

Among contemporary playwrights, Kondoleon has been uncommonly well-represented on D.C. stages in recent years-particularly at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, where his “Zero Positive” closes Sunday after a seven-week run.

Kondoleon had been scheduled to attend the Woolly production and conduct playwriting workshops, but contracted pneumonia while traveling in Argentina and is now recuperating at his parents’ home in Queens. Though he’s been out of the hospital for just one day, Kondoleon is eager to chat about “Zero Positive,” his poignantly comic meditation on death.

“Frankly I’m sorry I won’t be able to see it in Washington, because I never liked the Public Theatre’s {1988} version of the play,” Kondoleon says. “Everything went wrong. It was one of those charmed and cursed events. Ultimately, bad productions say nothing, they just baffle and confuse.

“My plays aren’t easy to do, I know,” Kondoleon says. ” `Zero Positive,’ in particular, is demanding because it can’t be done in just one style. It’s like five different styles, and the play deconstructs on a theatrical level, in that it starts on a sort of chitchatty kind of summary of naturalistic plays-influenced by everyone from Noel Coward to the present-set in a realistic Upper West Side living room, then goes into a sort of horrific opera bouffe kind of level, and then to sort of bubbly romantic comedy, to Platonic Greek discourse, to finally early Roman-Greek theater with a painted backdrop.

“I think for a production of this play to work, you have to really make all five of these beads string together very tightly, and you have to feel they’re on the same necklace, even if one’s glass and one’s diamond and one’s made of yarn.”

Going back to “Zero,” Kondoleon says the play was written at Yaddo, the writers’ colony.

“I was trying to write some Hitchcock-like movie there, and I was very haunted, to say the least, by two events, one of which was a friend who had just died of AIDS, and another one who had tried to kill himself and was hospitalized,” Kondoleon says.

“Neither person was a very close friend, which in some way made it, if you’ll forgive the word, existentially more frightful, because I wasn’t really emotionally involved with either person. I just couldn’t shake it. Then the play just seized me really. It was very much sort of a very fevered, dictated-from-outer-space kind of event.”

Kondoleon says “Zero Positive” will be included in a forthcoming Theatre Communications Group anthology of AIDS plays called “The Way We Live Now: American Plays and the AIDS Crisis.” The inclusion of “Zero” among such plays as William Hoffman’s “As Is,” Harvey Fierstein’s “Safe Sex,” Terrence McNally’s “Andre’s Mother” and Christopher Durang’s “Laughing Wild” was controversial, Kondoleon says.

“Well, it doesn’t use the word AIDS once in the whole play, and most of the plays they’re using are like sort of `photojournalist’ AIDS plays. And this play isn’t really about AIDS, it’s about death, and knowing your `due date’ is stamped on you.”

Kondoleon says he was particularly pleased when an actress who had lost a friend to AIDS praised the play, telling him, “You absolutely captured what it’s like to have the floor fall from under you.”

He’s written a new play, called “Love Diatribe,” which he says is “superficially about the phenomenon of the boomerang kid, the sort of adults that move back in with their parents-not because they’re convalescing, by the way-but because they just can’t get it together.”

Adding he’s “waiting to hear what’s going to happen with” the new play, Kondoleon says he’s also written a new novel.

“It’s called `Human Nature,’ about an out-of-work actress who wants to have a child because a fortune teller says that she absolutely must, and she can’t find anyone because everybody’s HIV-positive or some sort of horrible person, so her neighbors abandon their 12-year-old boy and she has it with him. So that’s basically the plot line, but it’s really not about that at all . . . .”

Which is somehow not surprising, given that it’s by Harry Kondoleon.

Washington Post, April 20, 1990

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *