Herzog can cite playwrights she admires from Kenneth Lonergan and Craig Lucas to Chekhov and Ibsen. But she believes novels and short stories have been a bigger influence on her writing.
“A lot of plays feel a responsibility to plot that novels don’t, because you can take your time with a novel,” Herzog says. “I try to write really interesting characters instead of riveting plots.”
She majored in English — “I was always more passionate about literature than anything else” — before grad studies in playwriting at Yale. She acted after graduating, but not for long.
“When I failed at acting, I stopped acting,” she says. “When I failed at writing, I kept writing.”
“After the Revolution,” is her only political play but an unusual political fluency percolates through all the works. In “4000 Miles,” a young Chinese American woman takes issue with the communist books in Vera Joseph’s apartment. In “The Great God Pan,” a character mentions single-payer health care briefly, yet seriously.
“I am obsessed about the politics of health care in this country,” Herzog says. She tells a story about buying medicine for her daughter; insurance didn’t cover it because an ingredient was water.
“I’m completely amazed by strange Kafkaesque world of health care that we all live and die by,” she says. “I’ve been thinking there could be a great farce. But I don’t know if I’m the right writer for it.”
Herzog hardly claims the mantle of political playwright, given her idiosyncratic focus on “the old hard-line reds” she grew up knowing in her extended family. (Her ongoing theme, she says, is “well-meaning people failing each other, and living with that failure.”) She casts a writer’s critical eye at the vintage socialist values, yet remains bound by her blood connections.
At least that’s how it looked last week as Herzog, slender and simply dressed in blue jeans and a thin green sweater, attended a performance of “4000 Miles” at Studio. She didn’t cancel the D.C. date even though her grandmother, Leepee Joseph, had passed away that morning at 96.
“This whole thing was about her,” Herzog explained afterward during a quiet moment backstage.
Hollywood already knows Herzog; she’s working on a romantic comedy screenplay for Castle Rock. She has no more plays in the chute. Writing two or three in the next five years would be nice.
“I wrote four plays in the last five years, but I don’t expect to be that productive ever again,” Herzog says. Professionally, her goals have been met: “Just to be a playwright, and to have productions I could be proud of off-Broadway. I don’t feel that there’s anything missing.”
by Amy Herzog. Through May 5at the Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.