April 16, 2018KR Conversations

David Butler

David ButlerDavid Butler’s most recent of three published novels, City of Dis (New Island), was shortlisted for the Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. A short story collection, No Greater Love, was published in London by Ward Wood in 2013. His first poetry collection, Via Crucis, was published by Doghouse in 2011, while a second poetry collection, All the Barbaric Glass, has been accepted for publication by Doire Press. Literary prizes include the Fish International Award for the short story; the SCDA, Cork Arts Theatre, and British Theatre Challenge for drama; and the Féile Filíochta and Brendan Kennelly Awards for poetry. An excerpt from his play “Blue Love” can be found here. It appears in the Mar/Apr 2018 issue of the Kenyon Review.

What was your original impetus for writing “Blue Love”?

“Blue Love,” in its incarnation as a one-act play, is actually a dramatized section of a novel-in-progress entitled Under the Sign of the Goat (currently looking for a suitable home!). Having lectured in various colleges/universities in Ireland and the UK, I wanted to look at the mechanics of a misguided power-relationship, one in which the student was as much agent as victim . . . after all, it is Tara who first submits the inappropriate coursework, and she who takes the initiative thereafter. Unfortunately she finds in Steve Collis a timid soul. . . .

Blue Love Office Scene
Office set from “Blue Love” staged at the Bray One-Act Festival

Aside from the budget of any future theater that will produce it, what motivated your choice for having only two settings for this play: those being Tara’s place under the bridge and Steve’s office? Was there an intended duality or comparison of territories between what was effectively Steve’s and what was Tara’s?

Aside from the budget, the other practical consideration is related to pace. With nine scenes in under an hour, more than two set locations would make changes necessarily intrusive and clunky. As to the duality, yes, very much so. Steve’s office is constantly a forum in which power-relationships are played out. All of the scenes between Steve Collis and Larry Kehoe can be viewed as alpha-male contests (the blocking should reflect this), so too the encounter with Michael Dan Maher. The shifting (increasingly fraught) relationship with Tara is played out in a day and night scene in both office and bridge. The bridge is very much her private space, the space sanctified by the intimacy she shared there with her dead twin. In each scene here, though in different registers, Steve is unwilling (unable?) to respond to her desperate need for a new intimacy.

Blue Love Bridge Scene
Bridge set from “Blue Love” staged at the Bray One-Act Festival

What meaning or impact do you hope the impending but not arrived PhD has on Steve’s position as a lecturer and possible competitor with Larry? Why is it that he is the only one who refuses to accept the title doctor when others offer it to him?

This makes Steve’s position (certainly to his own mind) insecure, at one level not unlike the “lack of tenure” in Mamet’s Oleanna. It is one of the first things we learn about him—Larry Kehoe’s disingenuous mentioning of the topic, which he plays off casually, is, of course, part of the perpetual point-scoring between the two of them. At one level Steve gets involved in the clandestine liaison to even the score between himself and the vicarious lecher in Kehoe.

When Tara and Steve speak in private about the colors of love, it feels as though Steve is lecturing, despite their circumstance, setting, and the fact that his color theory is hypothetical. Do you see this more as a form of honesty and personal conversation wherein Steve is being forthright with Tara or is it more of a guarded, almost performative, display of knowledge and power?

Performative, yes, though I’d suggest he is evading rather than lecturing per se. Every personal question that Tara directs toward him in this scene is deflected. She is genuinely interested in the new vocabulary, the fourteen nuances for the troublesome term. What was it she shared with her twin? What type(s) of love are available now, and which (if any) is Steve capable of? His evasions suggest she is not wrong to characterize his form of love as “dark yellow.”

Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing?

Since I left full-time lecturing in 2010 I’ve been involved in every aspect of Amateur Dramatics, from acting to directing to set-building. Most of the playwrights I admire—Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, Tracy Letts—went through a long apprentice on stage. But beyond writing drama, I think the activity has helped all my writing enormously. My inspiration very often arrives in the form of “voice,” heard during the long hours of insomnia. In order for voice to become character, an author needs to inhabit it as freely and as thoroughly as an actor who “method acts.” And as often as not, the truth of the voice is in what is not spoken as much as what is.