Inside THE COLUMNIST Part Three: Conversation With the Playwright

Inside THE COLUMNIST Part Three: Conversation With the Playwright

Pictured: Playwright David Auburn and Director Kierra Fromm. Photo courtesy of American Blues Theater.  

In this 3-part feature, PerformInk continues its INSIDE series and takes a look at the world of American Blues Theater’s production of THE COLUMNIST through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past INSIDE articles, click here.

Part Three: Interview With Playwright David Auburn
By Assistant Producer Elyse Dolan

What inspired you to tell Joseph Alsop’s story?
A few years back I realized I knew very little about the Vietnam War, so I started to read. I went through a long list of titles. The names of the Alsop brothers showed up everywhere and in unexpected places. They were these very influential, now somewhat forgotten, backstage players, and they gave me a lens through which to view the whole era. Joe’s personal travails let me look at another subject I was interested in: the impact of one’s emotional vulnerabilities – one’s private life – on public action.

Does your writing process differ when tackling historical figures in a drama?
No. The process is the same. Try to understand the people you’re writing about as fully as possible. Try to get as much of their complexity and contradictions into the writing as you know how.

Why is this play relevant today?
I’m not sure it is! That’s up to the audience to decide. That said, I do think one question at the heart of the play – why do people sometimes cling to terribly damaging ideas, even at the price of their own self-destruction? – is perennial. We’re also concerned more than ever now about the role the press plays (or fails to play) as a gatekeeper, truth-teller, and check on power in a time of political crisis.


DAVID AUBURN (Playwright) is an American playwright. He attended the University of Chicago, where he was a member of Off-Off Campus, and received a 1991 B.A. degree in English literature. Following a one-year fellowship with Amblin Entertainment, he moved to New York City in 1992. Auburn spent two years in the Juilliard School’s playwriting program, studying under the noted dramatists Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang. Auburn’s first full-length play, Skyscraper, ran Off Broadway in 1997. His short play, What Do You Believe About the Future?, appeared in Harper’s Magazine and has since been adapted for the screen. Auburn is best known for his 2000 play Proof, which won the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play, as well as the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He has adapted it into a film, which was released in 2005. His play The Columnist had its world premiere in a production by the Manhattan Theatre Club on Broadway, running from April 3, 2012 through June 3, 2012 and starring John Lithgow with direction by Daniel Sullivan. Auburn has also been awarded the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Following Proof, he wrote the screenplay for the movie The Lake House, released by Warner Bros. in 2006. In 2007, he made his directorial debut with The Girl in the Park, for which he also wrote the screenplay.

About author

Elyse Dolan

Elyse is American Blues Theater’s Assistant Producer, and a proud Artistic Affiliate. At Blues she has directed several short plays in past Ripped festivals; assisted Kimberly Senior on the reading of Other Than Honorable; and assisted Ed Blatchford on The Rainmaker. Most recently, she directed the world premiere of Here After by Evan Sesek at The New Colony. Other Chicago credits include directing stage readings for Pride Films & Plays, Three Cat Productions, and the Greenhouse Theater Center, and serving as Assistant Director on productions at Raven Theatre, Oracle Theatre, 16th Street Theater, and Redtwist Theatre. Elyse holds a B.A. in Theater and English Literature from Denison University.

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