"I moved out of the South and back into history with plays like The Lucky Spot and Abundance," Henley says. "Then I flash forward toward the 21st century with futuristic plays set in Los Angeles. When I move out of the South, I'm also moving out of a more naturalistic style and experimenting with other styles. L-Play deals with six themes done in six different styles; I was dealing with the fragmentation of my life at the time. When I wrote Impossible Marriage, I was pregnant, and I really wanted to write a happy play."
Henley became a mother after age 40; her son, Patrick, is now four. "I couldn't have done it in my 20s or 30s," she says, citing her obsession with writing and work. Now, however, she happily spent the day before Family Week's opening night playing with her son in a freak spring snowstorm. "He'd never seen snow!" she says with a delighted laugh. "We went out to the park and there were tulips in bloom with snow behind them. It was amazing."
Though Henley repeatedly expresses her love of New York, "this magical place where people gather every night to see theater," living on the West Coast has allowed her to spend time working on screenplays. Recent assignments (none of which have yet been produced) include adaptations of the novels A Confederacy of Dunces, The Shipping News, and A Long and Heavy Life, plus a pair of scripts for Jonathan Demme based on non-fiction books about a racially charged murder case and a band of Canadian bank robbers. Asked what she enjoys most about screenwriting, Henley replies slowly, "Well, let's see. We wouldn't want to say money, would we? Actually, I love to work on a great book with a great director. It's like getting paid to go to some special Harvard class." Still, she considers the theater home, praising the level of control a playwright retains.
Those of us who fondly remember Lizbeth Mackay, Mary Beth Hurt, and Mia Dillon in the Broadway production of Crimes of the Heart (not to mention Peter MacNicol as Dillon's dweeby lawyer, a part he's still playing on Ally McBeal) may be startled to hear that Second Stage is planning a 20th anniversary revival next season. "Sometimes it feels like it's been 50 years," Henley quips of her first big success, achieved before she was 30, "and sometimes it feels like it's been two days. Time is the most fascinating thing to me: It's liquid and relative and makes no sense whatsoever. I'm just happy to be alive, and happy that someone is still interested in doing the play." She enjoyed Garry Marshall's sold-out production last fall at L.A.'s Falcon Theatre, and says wistfully, "I have so many vivid memories of every production I've seen." The career benefits and validation of winning a Pulitzer for her second play far outweighed any subsequent career pressure, she adds.
Henley sounds satisfied with her eclectic, 20-year career. Laughing, she comments, "It's like the last line a friend of mine wrote for a porno movie: 'This is good, but I want more.' I'd love to be in a Broadway theater with those chandeliers, and I'd love to work with more good people. I love New York, and I love the theater."