Jon Klein’s funny and sharp T Bone N Weasel premieres this weekend at the excellent Theatre Pro Rata. The play runs at the Gremlin Theatre, 2400 University Avenue in St. Paul, through March 18. Jon was kind enough to respond to a few questions.
John Olive: You spent a significant amount of time in Minnesota. What brought you here and why did you leave?
Jon Klein: I first came to Minneapolis with a play that was developed at Midwest Playlabs, which was the precursor to the current PlayLabs and led by the renowned playwright Dale Wasserman (Man of La Mancha, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest). Soon after, I received a Jerome Fellowship from the Playwright’s Center and moved to the Twin Cities, where I stayed for seven years. It was an amazing time and place to be a beginning playwright. Many writers who were at the beginning of their theatre careers happened to be there at that time – August Wilson, Lee Blessing, Steven Dietz, Kevin Kling, and of course, yourself! – and we read each other’s plays out loud and walked over to the local bar to offer friendly (but rowdy) criticism. A fantastic learning experience. I had some early productions at Illusion Theatre, as well as a few others at theatres no longer existent – Brass Tacks, Quicksilver and Actors Theatre of St. Paul.
Leaving was a difficult decision, but simply put, I wanted to test the waters elsewhere, and see what other theatre communities had to offer. Since I left Minneapolis in the late eighties, I’ve lived in the following cities, in order of arrival: Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, and now Washington, DC. I had productions in each of those cities as well. I’m currently the head of the MFA Playwriting Program at Catholic University in DC, where I’m in my eight year of teaching.
JO: T Bone N Weasel, if I’m not mistaken, premiered here. Can you share anything about this experience?
JK: T Bone N Weasel did indeed premiere in Minneapolis, under the direction of the prolific playwright and director Steven Dietz. Prior to that, it received an outstanding reading at the newly configurated PlayLabs, also under Dietz’ direction. As a result of the “buzz” generated at PlayLabs, it went on to full production in the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and afterwards a lot of other regional theatres. One of the original actors, Julian Bailey, received a lot of sudden attention as the actor who played 9 characters in the play – his performance was no less than inspired. I was upset to hear that Julian passed away last year in St. Paul, at a relatively young age. He was loved and admired by many fellow theatre artists, especially in Minnesota.
JO: My sense is that TBNW is often produced and the play has firmly entered the American repertoire. Is this true? Can you offer a reason why? Related to this, has TBNW been adapted for other media?
JK: T Bone has been produced at over a hundred theatres nationwide, and it must be remembered with special fondness in Minneapolis, since the Pro Rata production is the third or fourth time it’s been done there. I wrote it during the Reagan years, when there was a clear and alarming gap between the rich and the poor in this country, as my personal response to the government’s oblivousness to the economic crisis. I suspect, with regret, that the play has become even more relevant in the 21st century.
There was a film adaptation for TNT (Turner Network) in the early 90’s, starring the late Gregory Hines (great performance), Christopher Lloyd, and a remarkable stable of character actors who split up the roles of the third actor: Ned Beatty, Rip Torn, Wayne Knight and more. Go online, and you should be able to find the VHS version for 99 cents!
JO: What are you doing now?
JK: Well, I’ve been collaborating on a new musical, Halfway Home, for the Victory Theatre in Burbank for about two years now. Hopefully we’ll see that in production in late 2012 or early 2013. There’s a new show for family audiences that will be produced in the DC area during the holiday season this year (more on that soon – it hasn’t been officially announced yet). And I’ve written an epic play with a large cast called Chance And Necessity, based on the true story of a Nobel Prize winning microbiologist, Jacques Monod, and his friendships with two amazing writers – Albert Camus and Jerzy Kozinski. That received an Alfred P. Sloan developmental fellowship at Ensemble Studio Theatre in NYC, and will have another public reading at the end of March, at Theatre J in DC.