“Work and Love”: An Interview with Higher Playwright (and A.C.T. Artistic Director) Carey Perloff

Posted by Emily Hoffman, Publications and Dramaturgy Associate
Most Bay Area theatergoers know who Carey Perloff is: the artistic executive of A.C.T. and a director with an enormous body of work to her credit. Fewer know that Perloff is also an award-winning playwright: Her 2003 drama The Colossus of Rhodes was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award and Luminescence Dating, which premiered at New York's Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2005, received the 2006 Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for Best Original Script. Now comes Higher, Perloff's meditation on love and architecture, which has received workshop productions at New York Stage and Film, Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and was recently honored with the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation Theatre Visions Fund Award.
Higher opened to rapturous reviews last week and was just extended through February 25. Click here for tickets.
Eternal Flame in the hall of remembrance, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, made of
boulders brought from the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee.
We sat down with Perloff on the eve of Higher's world-premiere production to talk about the origins of her newest play.
Where did this story begin for you?
I love plays in which people actually make things—and I've always been fascinated by architecture. I wondered why architecture is such an incredibly male profession, so one kernel of the play was an attempt to understand where women might fit into a field that is all about taking up space. Early on, the idea came to me to pit a man and woman against each other in an architectural competition . . . and of course the stakes go way up when they are lovers, and when they're trying to navigate a passionate, complicated relationship. But that's also part of the comedy!
Why did you choose Israel for the site of the monument?
I have had several memorable trips to Israel in recent years. One was when I won the Koret Israel Prize and we were driven in a jeep up the hills near Galilee towards the Syrian border; I remember looking down at the Sea of Galilee and being so moved and also terrified at what a small and vulnerable water supply it was for the whole state of Israel. Israel is obsessed with memory and memorials, so it somehow felt natural that the memorial would end up there. And it's a place with very conflicted feelings about America, which makes for good drama.
This is a play, to some degree, about the perennial life/work conflict. How much of your own experience as an artistic director is in there?
All of it! Freud said there are only two things: work and love. But putting the two together is incredibly difficult, especially for women. To try to have a life and love and a family, while staying on top of your game professionally, and not get totally torn apart, is extremely hard. And yet one feeds the other. That's what Isaac accuses his father of: he feels that, in pursuing his professional ambitions, Michael has totally detached from his personal life, with the result that the work itself has become disconnected and dry.
Do you have any favorite monuments?
Anything Maya Lin has made! I was particularly overwhelmed by an installation she did at the de Young Museum several years ago of undulating waves made out of little wooden two-by-fours. I think she is so extraordinary. And I love the Omaha Beach Memorial in Normandy . . . and of course Yad Vashem in Israel.

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