Stagecraft Podcast: Lynn Nottage on Her New Play’s Surprising Link to Kathryn Bigelow

Lynn Nottage is a playwright best known for socially engaged realism (“Sweat,” “Ruined”), so it’s pretty surprising that her new play, “Mlima’s Tale,” is an expressionistic piece told from the point of view of an elephant. Also surprising? It was inspired by the Oscar-winning film director Kathryn Bigelow.

“Really, [the project] came to me when I began a dialogue with Kathryn Bigelow,”  Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, said on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. “She said, ‘I really want to do something about elephants and I feel like the right medium is theater, but I’m not a theater artist.’ What I personally love about theater is that you can have a very direct dialogue with the audience, that it’s much more intimate and that you can build empathy very quickly. I think she felt like film might be very distancing.”

The play that grew out of that conversation with Bigelow, “Mlima’s Tale,” is now playing at Off Broadway’s Public Theater after her last play, “Sweat,” was nominated for a Tony and earned the Pulitzer last year. Because that was her second Pulitzer (after “Ruined” won the award in 2009), she already had an idea of what the award does for the lifespan of a play — and what it doesn’t.

“‘Ruined’ also won the award, and I thought that in some ways it was going to amplify the life of that play,” she said candidly on the podcast. “But a year after it won the Pulitzer Prize, it didn’t have any professional productions. One, I think it has a very large cast. I think perhaps, thematically, it’s really tough. Perhaps it’s because it has an African woman at the center of its story. I don’t know, other than I was disappointed that the play hasn’t taken the journey that I would have hoped.”

On Stagecraft, Nottage also talked about her work on the Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It,” explained why she never shies from politics and activism, and spilled some details on the new musicals she’s working on.

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