West of 10th Marketing Director, Mikayla Petrilla got to sit down with Cary Gitter, playwright of next week's developmental workshop of After Dad.
Mikayla Petrilla: Where is your hometown and where do you currently reside?
Cary Gitter: My hometown is Leonia, New Jersey, and I currently reside in Astoria, Queens.
MP: Describe your education - where did you attend and what did you major in?
CG: I received a BFA in dramatic writing and an MA in English and American literature from NYU.
MP: Tell us more about you! We want to know about your interests and involvement in the theatre community.
CG: I'm a current member of Youngblood, the Ensemble Studio Theatre's (EST's) Obie Award-winning group for emerging playwrights under 30. EST is an incredible theater dedicated to the development of new work, and it's my artistic home. I'm beyond lucky to get to collaborate with the immensely talented people I've met in my time there. As for my day job, I'm senior editorial manager in the marketing department of the 92nd Street Y, the community and cultural center on the Upper East Side. It's a great job to have, and everyone there is extremely supportive of my work as a playwright. Probably my most interesting interest is the Yiddish language--the language of my Eastern-European Jewish paternal grandparents--which I've been studying (at 92Y) for almost four years now.
MP: Describe After Dad.
CG: AFTER DAD is a dark comedy about Cammy, a 29-year-old woman whose father has died unexpectedly and who comes home from New York City to New Jersey for the seven-day Jewish mourning period known as shiva. During the week, she has to deal with an orbit of people who all want what's best for her: her grieving mother, her high-energy childhood best friend, her gorgeous high school crush, and the well-meaning rabbi. (Plus a supernatural Jersey Bro who's invading her dreams.) But what Cammy really needs to do is to grieve her father and get her messy life together, and that's what the play is about.
MP: Let’s discuss After Dad some more. What are the origins of this play? How did this come about? Did you have any influences?
CG: The origin of AFTER DAD is the unexpected death of my father in October 2016. I went home from New York City to New Jersey for the burial and the shiva. I saw a lot of people from my past. I experienced real grief for the first time in my life. And even though I was right in the middle of it all--with no perspective whatsoever--I found it was the only thing I could write about. So I wrote a first draft of the play in an intense two-month period, in the immediate aftermath of the death. It was a form of therapy, I guess. But because it's me, the play turned out to be a (dark) comedy.
A couple of plays have influenced me with AFTER DAD. One is Clare Barron's beautiful YOU GOT OLDER, which Page 73 produced in 2014. That play is about a young woman coming home to care for her sick father at a time when her own life is in crisis. And it's really funny and raunchy and strange. There's even a cowboy sexual-fantasy figure. Another influence is Annie Baker's unproduced NOCTURAMA, which is published in her collection, THE VERMONT PLAYS. There's no death in that play, but it's about a depressed guy in his 20s who comes home to stay with his mom and his stepdad and makes everyone around him miserable. I love that play because it shows, hilariously and sadly, how someone in pain can cause a lot of grief for the people who love them.
MP: What do you want audiences to take away from After Dad?
CG: I never really write with clear messages or takeaways in mind. I think I just want audiences to have a certain kind of experience with my work. With AFTER DAD, I've tried to write an honest (and hopefully amusing) account of grief and returning home to one's roots. I think this is pretty universal stuff. So I hope audiences who see the play will find that it resonates with their own experiences of pain and loss and trying to move forward in life. Or, if they haven't had to go through that yet, maybe the play will teach them a little bit about what it can be like. Mostly, I want the play to make feel people less alone. In the face of death, it's okay to be a mess. It's okay to be ridiculous. It's okay to be ugly. And it's okay to laugh about it too.
MP: What questions do you want answers to in regards to how to make After Dad better?
CG: You know, I don't know that I have a specific answer to this right now. There are always so many ways to make a new play better, and I'm looking forward to discovering things about AFTER DAD in the workshop week and at the reading. Fortunately, I'm working with a director and a cast who are super smart and will shine plenty of light on how the play can grow and develop. And I'm also excited to hear the reaction of the audience at the reading, which always says a lot.
MP: Do you have any other projects up your sleeve?
CG: My next big project is a commission from the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science & Technology Project for a new science-based play called THE HOLIEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. The play has to do with archaeology and the Arab-Israeli conflict over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, so it requires a ton of research, including possibly my first trip to Israel. I'll be working on it this fall. I'm very excited to dive into a timely project that exists at the intersection of science, history, politics, and religion.
MP: What's it like working with West of 10th?
CG: I love working with West of 10th. They produced a reading of my play MENORAH back in October 2016, so this is my second time collaborating with the company. And I'm thrilled and honored that they've chosen After Dad for their first developmental workshop. Jen and Rachel are terrific producers: thoughtful, supportive, proactive, and committed to serving the needs of the play and the creative team. And like me, they come from Bergen County, New Jersey, so we all understand each other as only Jews from North Jersey can!