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Interview with Charles Evered

By Gary Wien

originally published: 12/01/2004

Charles Evered is a playwright and journalist who took his degrees from Rutgers and Yale University. Presently, he is an Assistant Professor at Emerson College in Boston. The world premiere of his play Celadine recently took place at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. The show is scheduled to run until December 12th. I spoke to Evered about the play and his wonderfully detailed female characters - a place few male writers dare to go yet a place where Evered seems to be succeeding greatly.

Celadine is the third in a trilogy of spy related plays.
A) That's right. I wrote a trilogy of plays about spies and the first one was called Wilderness of Mirrors, which George Street Playhouse did last year for their first show. The second was called Clouds Hill and that premiered in San Jose in September of this year. I directed that one out in California and it's actually going to be published in a month or two. And Celadine is the last play in the trilogy.

One of the things that really struck me by watching Celadine was the challenge you took by writing such detailed female characters. That's something that a lot of men obviously have trouble with and shy away from.
Well, it's something that took me a while. We develop as writers; we don't start out knowing something until we work on it. When I started writing as a younger writer, I just didn't write female characters because I didn't know enough about women to really delve into them. So a lot of my early plays are mostly about guys in trouble or guys reaching a crisis or something. And then what happened to me, which was a blessing, was my wife Wendy.

She's a terrific actress and she's really influenced me in terms of the kind of writing I was doing for women. She would read my early drafts and just throw the draft across the room and say, 'write a person – you're writing all these archetypical people that you think are women but you're not writing really fleshed out people.' She was a great inspiration for me to write more succinctly about women and to give them the type of parts they deserve. As you know, there aren't many parts for actresses of a certain age in movies anymore. So to get two actresses like Amy (Irving) and Leslie (Lyles) on stage together, I need to write to their talent level. I wrote these two parts with both women in mind, so it helped.

Leslie was in Wilderness of Mirrors and Amy had appeared in a short play of mine a couple years ago in New York. So I knew their talent and structured these parts to be exactly built for them. They have a real thing going on in more ways than one. They have a relationship that goes even beyond the writing, so it was a real joy to work with them.

I thought that Amy Irving did a wonderful job, but it seemed a bit like Leslie Lyles may have upstaged her somewhat.
In some ways, Leslie has the kind of sexier part in the sense that she gets the laughs. Mostly they have, to me, huge strengths but in different ways. For instance, Amy really is the crux of the play – meaning she's the story of the play. She's the reason the play happens. Where as Leslies is the comic foil. I kind of relate it to Animal House. There's all these different stories but who do you remember? It's John Belushi stuffing his mouth with food and stuff like that. But when you think of Animal House, you don't say it's about John Belushi it's just he had those memorable scenes.

I gave Leslie specific comedic scenes, but it takes someone with Amy's talent to really nail the emotional core, which is the loss of her daughter. I tried to write to their strengths. While Amy's very funny if you meet her in person, Leslie's more known for comedy and Amy is known more for drama. I just feel so blessed to have both of them. It was funny on opening night, Amy announced, 'I will never do another play unless Leslie Lyles is in it!' And I think she's smart because they're just great together.

Speaking of comedic scenes, the funniest scene in the play actually deals with Amy's character having someone mend her clothes under her skirt. It's an amazingly funny scene as another character tries to have a conversation with Celadine while a man is under her skirt and there's lots of grunting, movements, and sexual innuendo jokes going on. That must be about a five-minute scene.

It's funny, a friend of mine is a comedy writer for the show Monk on USA Network. He lives here in Madison and called me the next day to dissect that scene with me. He was like, 'how do you keep that going and keep an audience interested?' What I actually did was write it twice as long as it is. What you saw was half of what it used to be and when we rehearsed it, it wasn't funny because it just went on too long. So I cut it in half. I give the audience less, in a way, and they want more. It's something I learned about comedy, and am still learning, which is always give them a little less. To leave audiences a little hungry isn't a bad thing.

Was this the first play of yours with such deep female characters?
I think this is the play in which my female characters are most realized. The character that Leslie played in Wilderness of Mirrors was a good character, but not as deeply drawn as these two. I hope to keep doing this because I'm really blessed to be known in some quarters of New York City for some wonderful actresses in my plays. And they're always asking me to write more for them. So, I say to myself, man if Hollywood and television are so stupid that they won't cast these women... well, then I'm going to give them great parts!

Writers should literally think of the fact that these women need these parts. They just aren't out there for them. I've always told playwrights who are writing to think about that because it's something we can do that people in Hollywood can't. The Hollywood people will say, 'wait a minute, the demographic is 14-year old boys to 21-year old boys.' And that's true in Hollywood. They want to see things blow up and they want to see naked girls. But in the theatre people want to see fully drawn women who have lives and who have lost and who are funny and are dramatic.

Celadine runs now to December 12th at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick.

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

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