Chatting at the E:Bar with… Playwright Jack Canfora
Tell us about JERICHO. What’s your “elevator speech”?
Well, assuming it’s a slowish elevator: it’s about people in Manhattan and Long Island who’ve endured some real traumas in their lives and…feel displaced. Who either can’t quite give themselves over to anything or find anything worth giving themselves over to. It’s about – gosh, this sounds pompous – people trying to find a community to belong in. That sounds really heavy. It’s not though, honest. The characters are funny and ironic – maybe too ironic at times for their own good – so it’s funny and, I hope, relatable.
What sparked the idea for the play? Setting? A character? A moment in time?
Not a moment in time so much as a feeling, I think. I was trying to write something dealing with the consequences of being raised on irony and skepticism in the face of things you can’t turn aside with a quip or a sneer. I mean, being jaded in your teens and twenties has its perks. You get to sleep in more, and, you know, the music you listen to is going to probably be better. That sort of reflexively ironic, kind of eye- roll-in-your–tone-of-voice thing that all the cool kids were doing became my sort of default setting for looking at everything, along with a lot of my friends. But, of course, even though it’s easier in some ways, it’s exhausting in others, because it’s empty calories for the most part; there’s nothing really nourishing in it. And of course, it has a really limited tensile strength up against a capital “T” sort of tragedy. And so I wanted to write about people who were face to face with things in their lives that made that sort of lens for viewing the world insufficient. And how they’d have to cope in the face of that.
Jericho, Long Island is a very specific place–why did you choose it as one of the locations of the play?
I’m from Long Island – from Huntington – which is a not terribly dissimilar town. And I teach high school English in a town almost adjacent to Jericho. So I think I understand that sort of existential suburban angst, as well as where to get good pizza. Not that there isn’t probably an overlap between those two skills. And, you know, on a shallow, obvious level, I have a writer’s weakness for resonant names, and the name suited my writerly agenda nicely.
The turning point of the play takes place during a Thanksgiving dinner. Why did you choose that particular holiday for this story?
Well, it’s a story about a certain kind of American life, or perhaps American problems, and that’s the Great American holiday. Sort of the ultimate holiday celebrating community, etcetera. It was an obvious fit.
Do you have any Thanksgiving traditions in your family?
Do emotional repression and overeating count as traditions? Then yes.
Cranberry sauce: chunky or smooth?
I’m not going to lie to you – not about this, anyway. I loathe cranberry sauce, and sometimes have a hard time judging those who don’t. It’s among my many, many flaws. So I think the answer to your cranberry sauce question is, as it is to so many of life’s pressing questions: pie.