Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage

Floyd’s was everything Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage promised it would be…and more. In my phone interview with Nottage a couple of days before I attended the Sunday Matinee performance at Guthrie Theater, she warned: “Bring your laughter!”

“Audiences have really been enjoying themselves,” she said. “It's an interesting show because it looks like it's easy to make, but it's deceptively difficult because of all of the food preparation, and it's orchestrated almost like a dance piece. Very intricately choreographed. But if we do our job right, it will look like it's completely effortless.”

Nottage’s description of the production as intricately choreographed, like a dance piece, brought to mind precisely-timed movement and words, so I asked, “Precision, right?”

“It's all about precision,” Nottage said, pivoting to further describe the work as a study in mindfulness.

Floyd’s take place in a truck stop kitchen, staffed by workers who are trying to rebuild lives after incarceration. Unseen are the customers, who we learn deeply appreciate Floyd’s culinary creations, and, the boss’ investors, whose demand for profit push back against the worker’s bid for freedom as expressed in their sandwich making creativity.

Floyd’s is at the Guthrie Theater through August 31.

Al McFarlane:

So what was your intent?

Lynn Nottage:

Floyd’s is a companion piece in many ways to Sweat, which was a play that was examining the way in which economic stagnation was really shaping the American narrative, and also our relationships within communities as they're fractured along racial and economic lines because of the financial downturn.

Floyd’s is a very different piece. It takes place in an undetermined time, and asks what happens to people, in this case, who have been formerly incarcerated who are trying to negotiate their freedom, and find themselves in a hostile situation where people will not allow them to flourish because of the mistakes that they've made. In many ways, it is a play about forgiveness.

What I was interested in is exploring the nature of complicated human relationships. I allow the audience to take what they will from what I have presented.

It is a play about mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an outlook. It's a way in which we approach life, and the things that we do with a sense of intention, and respect.

Floyd's is a play about a sandwich shop. The making of the sandwich is a metaphor for the experience of being mindful. It's how do we assemble the set of ingredients in a way that's purposeful. It's done with a sense of love and intention. And when you see the play, you'll understand. I mean it sounds abstract right now, but it isn't abstract.

Al McFarlane:

And so my question is not so much about the play, but about Lynn Nottage… How you grab the world, or handle the world, or mold what you can grab of the world into your work?

Lynn Nottage:

I think that's an interesting question. I think the play comes out of a place of me trying to grapple with a world that increasingly feels very toxic on multiple levels, from the environmental level to the leadership that we have, not just in Washington, but in many of the large industrial countries. And wanting to write something that is about not just what's happening in our own backyard, but what's happening on a larger scale.

I reached to write something that's a little more spiritual in nature because I feel one of the things that's happening in our culture is that we're turning away from spirituality. I'm not talking about religion, but just the sense of nurturing community, and treating each other with a level of respect, and understanding everyone's human dignity.

We have to remind ourselves that no matter what mistakes people have made in their lives, that fundamentally we're all human. And I think that the human side of ourselves can always be accessed if it's nurtured.

Al McFarlane:

Do you fear, Lynn Nottage, that the side of our humanity that embraces failure of character, failure of decency, failure of respect can overtake, and can extinguish or diminish the side that sustains and uplifts dignity?

Lynn Nottage:

Well I think that we're living it right now. We have a leader in Washington who is a bully, who traffics in a certain level of toxicity that is being internalized by a lot of the people who follow him. And I think that all of us are just caught in the wake of that. I think it's no accident that, particularly among young people, that there's a higher level of anxiety and depression the last two years. There's a sense of hopelessness.

I didn't watch the presidential debates because I was at the show. But one of the things, when I was watching the post analysis, that I craved was for the candidates to talk a little bit more about, "How do we heal community?" And to have more of a philosophical leaning than they have right now. I feel so much of what's being spoken is rhetoric that we've heard so often that it becomes meaningless. It panders to the moment rather than asking, "Well what is really wrong?" Let's get at the essence. Like, "What is really, really wrong with our culture?"

It's not just that there's poverty, and it's not just that we're ignoring the environment. There's something fundamentally wrong with the way in which we treat each other. There are immense flaws in this culture that have allowed racism to continue to flourish.

Al McFarlane:

I raised the negative questions just to frame of how you approach solutions. Is there a sense that the power of good, and righteousness exists, and can, and will prevail?

Lynn Nottage:

We certainly have moments in which righteousness has prevailed. And where we have leaders who are able to communicate in a way that coalesces community, brings people together for a common good. And I think that there is a hunger for that individual. I'm looking at the 20 democrats, and I say, "Well who is that community builder? Who is that person who's going to be able to reach across divides, and really do what needs to be done now which is pull this country together?" We're at a crisis point. We really are. And I hate to be so negative because I'm not a negative person, but we are at that crossroads.

When I say crossroads, in part I'm thinking back to the failed presidential election bid of Al Gore, who was an environmentalist. And if he had been elected back then, we may have had a Green Agenda right now, and our planet may have been in a better place. And we may not be in the heightened panic that we are right now about global warming because we may have already been developing some solutions.

I feel like we're at another crossroads right now. With the leadership that we select we'll be making decisions that will impact the next 10, 20 years of our lives.

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