Call Redialed: NEW Mark Jason Williams Interview: "The Other Day" at The Theater at 14th Street Y
I'm so excited to get to catch up with Award Winning playwright Mark Jason Williams about his powerful play The Other Day. I had the pleasure of seeing the 2011 incarnation of the show at the Planet Connections Festival where it won the Planet Connections Award for Outstanding Playwriting.
It's been seven years since this show premiered and it's great to talk about the play's evolution, Mark's growth, and everything in between, including casting TV's David Bottrell (Modern Family, Boston Legal) in this run of The Other Day.
The Other Day is about a gay couple with substance abuse issues, a woman confronting her failing marriage, and a charming foreigner hiding a secret. They all share an unexpected journey through love, addiction, loss, and redemption that will redefine their relations, and themselves, in surprising ways.
The Other Day will run at The Theater at the 14th Street Y (344 East 14th Street, 14th & 1st Avenue) from September 7-23. Click here for tickets!
1. It's so great to catch up with you! I first saw The Other Day back in 2011. Now the show is being mounted at The Theater at 14th Street Y. How has the show changed since it's 2011 run? Ditto, Adam! I can't believe it's been seven years since we've met, and I'm thrilled to speak to you again about The Other Day, thank you.
The show has changed quite a bit. As I've matured, both as an artist and as a person, The Other Day has grown with me. I turned 40 this year, and I wanted the play to reflect how a person in this age group faces things like the insecurity of a new relationship, learning how to love after being burned, dealing with loss, and finding the balance between pleasing our partner and staying true to ourselves. While a lot of people fear aging, I'm excited about "maturing" and love the ways in which The Other Day now explores the emotions and challenges of gay men in their forties, something which I don't think we see enough of onstage. These characters have different desires, emotions, and journeys than in the play's previous draft. Another big change is the relationship between the characters of "Mark" and "Dina." They are now half-siblings instead of co-workers, which adds a new dimension to their relationship and strengths "Dina’s" emotional arc.
2. In the seven years since our last interview about this show, what has changed for you professionally and personally? So much! I’ve done a lot more theater, with two shows in The New York International Fringe Festival, as well as multiple productions in Washington D.C., Chicago and Minneapolis. My play, Recovery, was produced as a staged reading by The Barrow Group Theater Company, and I’m a three-time recipient of The Planet Connections Outstanding Playwriting Award for The Other Day, and my plays Straight Faced Lies and A Man’s Man.
I've also started writing essays. With the guidance of a great writing teacher and friend, Susan Shapiro, I published my first essay entitled Phone Sex Change in Out Magazine in 2014. That essay inspired a story on Jezebel, and was recently published in Susan’s awesome new book, The Byline Bible. A few weeks ago, we did an event together and I had the chance to read the essay in front of a standing room crowd at Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. I love seeing my words performed by actors, but this was also quite the thrill! I’ve written two other essays for Out, and four for The Washington Post. Other places I've been published include Salon, Far and Wide, Good Housekeeping, Honeysuckle, The Denver Post, The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Two essays were even reprinted by Stuff Magazine in New Zealand, so I'm international! I really love sharing work both on stage and on the page.
A big social change in the last seven years is that marriage is now legal for same-sex couples, which makes me happy. That's something we now explore in the play. Speaking of which, I married my significant other, Michael, last year. Not to be outdone, 2018 saw us going to Antarctica and buying a house in Westchester. So, things have been pretty good!
3. I am LOVING that this run of the show has David Dean Bottrell! How did you come to know him to cast him in the show? Me, too! David is amazingly talented, as is our entire cast and crew. David and our director, Andrew Block, previously knew one another from the LA theater scene. Then, rather serendipitously, they ran into one another in New York. Andrew told him about the show, and David was interested and available. I was behind his casting 100 percent.
4. What are you most excited for about this run of The Other Day? There’s a lot to be excited about! This production marks the first time I’ve done a play outside of a festival, so I’m grateful to have a three-week run and be part of a curated season at the The Theater at the 14th Street Y.
Andrew and our cast - David, Sandro Isaack, Elizabeth Inghram and John Gazzale—are incredible to work with and I’m looking forward to seeing the way they ignite the words on stage. And of course, I’m thrilled for the chance to share this play with new and returning audiences. There’s no greater joy than to be able to see my work with a live audience.
5. As the playwright, how do you relate to the show today as opposed to back in 2011? In 2011, I wrote about relationships without having ever experienced love. Older and very much in love, I relate a lot more to the show's exploration of the joys, nuances and complexities of intimate relationships.
6. What was the easiest scene of this play to write? Which one was the most difficult? Great question! The easiest scene was the first one, where the characters of "Mark" and "Santo" meet. Usually I have trouble getting started, but their dialogue--in which two men discuss their addictions and get to know one another in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting--was such a rich, emotional setting that the words came naturally.
The hardest scene was a new one I added a few weeks ago, where the characters talk through texting. I wanted to explore digital communication, how we use emojis in place of emotions, but I am so out of touch with "text speak." It took me an hour just to write two lines.
7. In our last interview together, you mentioned that you wrote The Other Day because of all your dating woes you were experiencing (this is a very paraphrased summary of your answer). Do you feel writing this show erased your dating karma and allowed it to be reset which then allowed for your now husband to walk into your life? This show was definitely very therapeutic. I spent so much time thinking “what am I doing wrong?” and writing The Other Day gave me the cathartic revelation that there’s a lot of grey area in relationships and not necessarily a right and a wrong. When I stopped being so hard on myself, I felt less jaded and more open to meeting men. So, yes, I certainly agree that it reset my dating karma and I’m grateful that Michael came into my life at a moment when I was ready to embrace being in a committed relationship.
8. This show is about a gay couple with substance abuse issues, a woman confronting her failing marriage, and a charming foreigner hiding a secret who share an unexpected journey through love, addiction, loss, and redemption that will redefine their relations, and themselves, in surprising ways. What was the most unexpected thing you discovered while you were dating your husband that made you love him even more? I'm sure he will love this question. There were many things that made me fall in love with Michael, but one of the biggest surprises was how much he loved rollercoasters. I never expected this from a pragmatic public health professor who actually enjoys wearing suits every day. After dating for three months, we went to Cedar Point in Ohio and rode a bunch of menacing rollercoasters. I looked at him as we ascended one of them, in this perfect moment with the sun setting over Lake Erie, and he had this gigantic smile on his face. Thirty seconds later, as we sped through twists and turns, I screamed my head off and he was still smiling. It was one of the many times I fell in love with him.
9. Keeping with the themes of the show, what has been your greatest loss, biggest redemption, and one secret you have been harboring that you are now ready to reveal? My biggest loss has been my grandparents. Growing up in an Irish-Italian family, Loretta and Michael lived downstairs and were everything to me. I lost my grandfather when I was 12 and my grandmother when I was 24--and it was really hard both times. My production company, Loretta Michael Productions, is named for them and I hope to honor their memory any way I can. I see the influence of their loving, and often comedic relationship, in The Other Day.
My biggest redemption is getting back into writing after taking a lot of time off. It's a hard career path that can take its toll, especially when rejections make you feel inferior. But I'm glad I came back to it with a renewed focus-in my 30s and through the present. It's a real pleasure to have an opportunity to share my voice with the world, and I am grateful people want to hear what I have to say.
A secret that I've been harboring...a central theme of The Other Day is trying to please someone so much you start to lose your identity in the process. This was me with virtually every relationship I tried to pursue before meeting Michael at the age of 36. It's not something I like to share because it makes me feel weak, and is probably why I remained single. I needed to meet a guy who wanted to compliment me, instead of trying to complete me. (Michael and I both hate Jerry Maguire, by the way). I needed to accept who I was, faults and all, and be able to accept that in someone else, too. Thankfully, I'm now in that place and very happy.
10. If you could complete this sentence, how would you finish it. The Other Day....The Other Day is a poignant, but also really funny, play about the nuances of both gay and straight relationships being staged by a terrific cast, director and crew, and I hope a big audience will share in this production with us.
More on Mark:
Mark Jason Williams is a New York playwright and essayist whose work is published by The Washington Post, Salon (“You’re too vanilla”: Confessions of a sexually tame gay man), Good Housekeeping, Out (Phone Sex Change), Far and Wide, The Denver Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Stuff (New Zealand), The Daily Dot, Honeysuckle, and more. His essay, Phone Sex Change, is published in The Byline Bible by New York Times bestselling author Susan Shapiro, and inspired a story for Jezebel. Mark's plays have been produced across the country in New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. He has a BFA in Dramatic Writing, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. For more about Mark, please visit markjasonwilliams.com