I’ve always believed that friendship should be regulated. I’ve also always believed that if we regulated friendship, it would be insane. The fact that I believe both sides of this paradox with equal passion and intensity means that I needed to write this play. What To Do When You Hate All Your Friends – An Anti-Social Comedy centers around a secret society of friends who all rank each other and are governed by very specific rules of conduct. If you’ve ever seen a play before, or if you know anything about human nature, you’ve probably already guessed that this utopian attempt at regulatory friendship does not end well. But I was inspired by how important friendship is in real life, and yet how, unlike in romantic relationships, we seem incapable of defining friendship beyond its surface.
Whether we’re in a deep friendship or a casual one, there are, of course, standards and expectations for our friendships, but we tend to lack, in our society, a proper vocabulary and grammar for friendship. There’s no equivalent to couple’s counseling for friendships, but I think that there’s a kind of heartbreak that happens in friendship that is just as powerful as romantic heartbreak, and yet we never talk about it. Each friendship is different and every friendship kind of creates its own rules as it develops (or degenerates.) This is, of course, part of what makes friendship so beautiful. We kind of create our own universe with each of our own friends. But it can also be maddening. I’ve always been as passionate about my closest friendships as I’ve been with my romantic relationships, and perhaps because of this, I’ve had a lot of platonic break-ups. I blame society. I’ve thought about writing my congressperson about it, but instead I wrote this play.
Some critics thought What To Do When You Hate All Your Friends was a metaphor for Facebook, can you confirm or deny?
What To Do had its world premiere at Theatre Row in the summer of 2008. It had an AMAZING cast: Todd D’Amour, Amy Staats, Josh Lefkowitz, Carrie Keranen, and Susan Louise O’Connor. Because of the fancy, hugely talented, and incredibly attractive cast, the show had buzz. And, like most plays, it had its ardent champions, and some detractors; the detractors were fortunately less passionate in their views, and smaller in number, but the fact is that the play divided people a bit (and there’s a lot of purposeful ambiguity in the play, so I guess I was doing my job, even though all I want from an audience is boundless and unwavering love.) But everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, critic and audience member alike, talked about how the play was clearly a metaphor for Facebook.
The ultimate irony here is that I was virulently Luddite at the time (no cell phone, no social media. People referred to me then as The Impossible Man. They still do, but for different reasons now.) Back then I had never used or even seen Facebook. Since then, because I run Purple Rep, an independent theatre company, I’m a bit of a marketing whore, and so I’ve swallowed the Kool-Aid and now have about three-thousand Facebook friends. And I get the connection now! The constant postings about what only you and your friends could only ever possibly be interested in! The whole " ''so-and-so likes this' thing!" The groups! The way in which this technology is supposed to bring us closer together, and yet, it makes us all feel empty inside. And so, as the author of this play, I now officially acknowledge that What To Do When You Hate All Your Friends is an unintentional metaphor for Facebook. I wasn’t exactly ahead of my time when I wrote it, but I was ahead of my own life. And that’s some kind of accomplishment, right?
The official Metaphor that I purposefully put into the play is about the way we were living during the Bush years. The first draft of What To Do was from as far back as the Clinton era, but when I did a major rewrite in 2006, the feelings of isolation that the characters feel, and the way that everyone in the play denies what’s really going on, and how, once everyone gets on the same page about what’s wrong with their way of life they still remain incapable of doing anything about it… all of this seems like a time capsule type of reference to that era. But no one wants to think about this kind of metaphor! I tried explaining it to the cast at our first rehearsal and I could see the regret for having signed on to this project on their faces the whole time. (Fortunately, I stopped talking about it, and that look on their faces went away, too.) It’s a comedy about friendship. And it reminds people of Facebook, since that’s how we stay in touch with our friends these days. If there are political metaphors in place, maybe it’s nice to talk about that stuff in an interview, but maybe that’s as far as it goes.
What To Do When You Hate All Your Friends is a play about friendship, not romance, was that a conscious choice?
There is a romance in the play, but even that romance is more about how the couple in question balances their friendship in and out of love. Yes, placing the accent on friendship as the relationship that involves courtship, flirtation, infatuation, betrayal, loss, grief, etc., rather than the boyfriends and/or girlfriends thing was, indeed, intentional. There’s lots of boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl stories, but rarely any guy-who-hates-all-his-
We heard you’re gonna be writing in a window. What's that all about?
I will be sitting in the storefront window of Drama Book Shop in midtown Manhattan later this month, writing a play in real time. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it was the brainchild of Micheline Auger, who runs a site called Theaterspeak. Micheline’s interviewed me a couple of times on her site (to help promote productions of my plays), and I’m as proud of those interviews as nearly any I’ve ever given. (Except for this one, which is clearly a standout.) Theaterspeak is sponsoring over 70 playwrights, all taking turns, writing in the window, for an event called Write Out Front.
Part of the reason why I wish this were my idea is because I’ve become a little obsessed with the conceptual artist Marina Abramovic after seeing the documentary about her life and work, The Artist Is Present. I want to present plays the way Marina Abramovic presents conceptual art. I also want to marry Marina Abramovic. Actually, I meant to just think that last bit, and not write it down for all to see, but the damage has been done. She has such a direct connection to her audience that I deeply admire and envy. One of her older pieces involved her setting up a space within a museum exactly like her own living quarters, and for a period of time, as part of the performance, she actually lived her private life in public, eating, sleeping, showering, pooping, etc. I think that there’s something political about taking what a playwright does in private and making it public. Everyone working in this industry has a rough time of it, but I think we playwrights too often get marginalized, since our most important contributions take place well before the play ever goes into production, so we’re expected to stay out of sight. So I’m very excited about this. I also offered to sleep, eat, shower, and poop in Drama Book Shop’s window, but for some reason they want me to just stick to writing. Philistines!
Did you ever act in or write a play in high school?
My greatest achievement as an actor was in a biblical play in the third grade. I went to a yeshiva (kind of like catholic school for Jews), so the Bible was a big deal. I played Hagar, the mother of Abraham’s first child who gets sent out into the wilderness to die, but God hears her cries and prayers and saves her. I wore a wig and a dress and my scene of despair left nary a dry eye in the house. I think people were crying from laughter. I’ve tried to do as little acting as possible since then (although sometimes I wear women’s clothes for political reasons), but I am writing a cycle of biblical plays called The Genesis Tapestries, so my formal education was good for something. Maybe two things.
Larry Kunofsky is a New York-based playwright whose play, The Un-Marrying Project, about a protest movement devoted to legalizing same-sex marriage in New York City, was produced in New York City in April 2011 (Purple Rep), before same-sex marriage was made legal in New York State. He makes absolutely no claim whatsoever towards helping this social movement move forward, but is delighted that his play has now become a “period piece.” He hopes to tour that show, so look for it in other states around the country… at some point. His other plays include My Therapist, The Cat Person, Oh, Magic Bag…, So Retarded - A Play For Idiots, bender/gender/straight/&neutered, Vicky Victim, Social Work (a nightmare), The Worst Person In The Whole Entire World Of All Time Ever. His most recent New York productions are The Myths We Need - Or- How To Begin produced by Purple Rep, and Your Boyfriend May Be Imaginary produced by The Management Theater Company. He has been a three-time winner of the John Golden Award for Drama, a resident at the Edward Albee Foundation, and is a member of The Dramatists Guild. His work has been excerpted in The Best Men's Monologues (2009), Best Woman's Stage Monologues and Scenes (2009), and the forthcoming 2013 edition of Best Woman's Stage Monologues and Scenes. Larry is the Artistic Director of Purple Rep, a small, independent theatre company, which will ultimately become a floating repertory/collective of playwrights, empowering stage-writers to control the means of production.