Suzanne Vega
(© Mary Rozzi)
Suzanne Vega
(© Mary Rozzi)
Grammy Award-winner Suzanne Vega's songs tell stories -- a boy called Luka wishes for a life without yelling; in Tom's Diner everything and nothing happens. Now, she's taking her storytelling into a new direction as the co-author and star of Carson McCullers Talks About Love, now at the Rattlestick Theatre. TheaterMania recently spoke to Vega about the project.

THEATERMANIA: Is this what you expected?
SUZANNE VEGA: There are moments where I think, "this is nuts." It's harder than doing a concert tour. When I put together a concert tour at this point, I'm doing songs I've done for 30 years and putting them together with newer songs. We had 10-hourr rehearsals for this. I did costumes at Barnard and some acting study, but that was a long time ago. I'm 52 now!

TM: When did this project begin?
SV: The play is framed by what I call "girl in library" because when I was 17 I saw her photograph on the cover of a biography, and the shock and surprise was that she was a woman. I had read a story of hers and always thought she was a man. She has a strange haunting face, but there was something so eerily familiar about her eyes and her hair that kind of drew me in. I was taking a musical theater class in college and I was given the assignment to come in as someone and field questions as if it were a TV show. I fashioned the costume, stayed up all night, and tried to get her body language. I did it from the outside in.

TM: When did you actually start working on the project?
SV: In 1981, I did part of it as a college thesis. Then I would do five or 10 minutes at a time over the years. I met Kay Matschullat [the play's director] at the BAM gala honoring Paul Simon in 2008. She asked for the script, and invited me over to talk about it. When I arrived, she said she'd already gotten permission from the Carson McCullers estate. My jaw dropped open.

TM: How would you describe the play?
SV: Audiences will get a sense of the breadth of her writing, and learn about her personal life. She was an alcoholic. I spend the whole play careening between do I have a drink in my hand or a cigarette in my hand, and if I don't have either of those, then I have chocolates in my hand. Even if you're not an artist, you would know someone like her or relate to her. You see her craving intimacy but also being a real bitch to her husband and others because she was in pain. Yet her ideology in the end was about what the Greeks called "Agape" or brotherly love. Love is what she achieved in spite of her brokenness.

TM Will you do another play after this?
SV: I have told Kay all my ideas. I asked Philip Glass once how he chooses the central figure in his operas, and he said, "It's always about the ideology of the man." I wondered what about theatre about the ideology of the woman? I'm interested in Jane Jacobs, who fought Robert Moses, the guy responsible for most of the projects in NYC, and won, and some others. I like taking someone else's point of view.