This preview was almost never written. I was sitting in a South End coffee shop with Noah Haidle after a rehearsal of Persephone and he made a quip about cancer. A gulp of coffee went down the wrong way and got trapped in a rising bubble of laughter, and I thought it was the end. He munched on salt-and-vinegar potato chips and waited for my spasm to subside.
Haidle’s deadpan sarcasm has an effect on people, in life as in his plays. But to hear him tell it, that’s not his intention. He says what he needs to say, he explains, and if people react, so be it. At 28, he considers it “amazing” that his career as a playwright has lasted three years. “I don’t have any underlying motive in anything I write. I think a play is like a math equation: you set up a problem and you solve it. There’s no ‘agenda.’ Nothing I have to say about anything is very interesting. My last objective in the world is to be provocative.”
Claims of an antiseptic approach aren’t what you’d expect from a writer whose breakout play, Mr. Marmalade, is about a four-year-old girl with an abusive businessman as an imaginary friend. In Persephone, which gets its world premiere this Friday courtesy of the Huntington Theatre Company after being read at last spring’s Breaking Ground Festival, the title character is a statue. We meet this representation of the goddess Demeter during the Renaissance, as she’s being created by a Venetian sculptor. Flash forward to today, when she stands in an American park, getting eroded by acid rain and pigeon shit as she bears witness to encounters both humdrum and horrific.
Haidle isn’t particularly interested in talking about the work, except to say that the idea emerged one day when he was in Bryant Park and noticed a statue of Goethe. “I thought I’d be a little depressed just watching the kids go up and down all day.” But he’s either the most nonchalant working playwright alive or his own best publicist. By not revealing specifics, he piques your curiosity.
So how does he respond to the angry letters he’s received about past plays? Or the laudatory ones? They’re “gratifying,” he says. But that gratification is a mere by-product of his job, which is to solve a problem, tell a story, and not be boring. His interest in philosophy seems to figure into this calculation; it was his major at Princeton. But his background does not. Haidle hails from Grand Rapids, Michigan, which he considers plenty boring. “Biography,” he declares, “has no pertinence to anything I do.”
PERSEPHONE | Huntington Theatre Company | Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, 527 Tremont St, Boston | March 30–May 6 | $50-$52; $15 student rush + back-row seats | 617.266.0800
On the Web
Huntington Theatre Company: http://www.huntingtontheatre.org