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Quick Wit: Richard Maxwell

The playwright talks with Robert Kent about boxing, etc. logo

Richard Maxwell (prone)
in a publicity photo for Boxing 2000
(Photo: Michael Schmelling)
Obie Award-winning playwright Richard Maxwell sees the world differently than most people; he observes the individuals around him and turns their stories into unique theatrical experiences. His plays--House, Cowboys and Indians, Showy Lady Slipper, and Clowns Plus Wrestlers--have been presented throughout the United States and abroad to critical acclaim. The New York Times calls his work "touching...having a strange, cumulative power," and The Village Voice says that, "by tearing off theatre's mask, [Maxwell] reveals a kind of truth seen all too infrequently onstage."

On September 6, the author invites audiences into the gritty world of boxing with Boxing 2000. Scheduled to run through September 30 at the Present Company Theatorium, Maxwell's latest look at humanity promises to be anything but what you'd expect. During a break from rehearsals, Maxwell took a moment to speak to me about boxing and the world around him.


Everything I know about boxing I learned from Barbra Streisand's The Main Event. How did you learn about the sport?

My father taught me. He was a boxer once. When I was 12, he told me I was a natural. He said that, if I decided to give up everything and focus only on becoming a boxer, he would train me and make me a champion. I never answered him--and the subject never came up again. Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened.

Do you still box?

Only as part of my workout routine.

Any workout tips?

Sure. I follow the Rocky diet: Each morning, drink six raw eggs.

Yuck! Streisand never had to do that! How did you develop an interest in theater and playwriting?

My father introduced me to the theater. He was also a playwright.

A playwright and a boxer?

A true Renaissance man.

Your sister Jan is also in theater.

I grew up watching her perform in everything from A Doll's House to Damn Yankees. Recently, she co-starred in The Sound of Music.

Did you ever co-star in a musical?

In high school, I played a dancing dog in the ballet from The King and I.

Tell me about Boxing 2000.

It's about a fighter being trained for an important match by his older half-brother. Their father and one of the brothers' girlfriends are part of the story. And there's a promoter who tries to get involved. Throughout the story, we learn about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It sounds like a made-for-TV movie.

In many ways, it is. I'm inspired by television. I watch a lot of TNT. I also love those "making of..." documentaries.

What would be revealed in a "Making of Boxing 2000" documentary?

There's a lot of testosterone flying around. The play is about fighting--sometimes, the battles cross over into rehearsals. In the documentary, it would also be revealed that I don't really know what I'm doing. Actually, I would learn a lot from a "Making of Boxing 2000" documentary.

Your plays have been performed at P.S. 122, HERE, and The Kitchen. Are you ready to conquer the lower East Side at The Present Company Theatorium?

I'm looking forward to playing The Present Company. It's an ideal venue for this show. The bare space looks like a cattle auction room; we're setting up an actual boxing ring and inviting theatergoers to sit in the balcony. For the month of September, The Present Company will be turned into a "speakeasy gym."

If you were to referee a "Downtown Celebrity Death Match" between P.S. 122's Mark Russell and The Present Company's John Clancy, who would win?

That's a tough call. They're in different weight classes.

Your last show, Showy Lady Slipper at P.S. 122, was inspired by a conversation you overheard on the subway. Do you still eavesdrop?

I'm always eavesdropping. As a writer, I can't help it.

Hear anything good lately?

The other day, on Eighth Avenue, I overheard a prostitute say [censored].

I can't print that!

Sorry. I'm using it in Boxing 2000. Eighth Avenue is not as Disneyfied as Rudy would have us believe. It still offers a wealth of great dialogue!


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