Q: So you’ve been a professor at the College since ’75, department chair for several years, and even executive assistant to the president for a year. But you’re also a nationally renowned playwright, your plays have appeared all over the country and have been published by Samuel French and others…
A: You have a question?
Q: How’d it all happen? It’s the 1980s, you’re a department chair for English, and then you become an accomplished playwright...
A: I always liked to write, and I’d written a number of short stories and poems over the years that appeared in various literary journals. But my becoming a playwright was something that grew from a personal identity crisis that one of my sons was facing. As the two of us tried to work through this, I began hearing dialogue in my head of characters who wound up becoming the focus of my first play, With No Apologies.
Q: So is the play true-to-life?
A: The situation is similar to what really happened, but the characters who emerged weren’t at all like either me or my son. That’s the shocking part about the creative process. What became the play was distinct in itself. The best way I can explain it is what Tennessee Williams said about writing: "It’s remembering what never happened."
Q: OK, so you wrote With No Apologies, but then how’d it wind up going anywhere?
A: I had sent it in for a contest to have it produced at the Bitter End in NYC. I remember after some time passed, I called up the company and one of the producers told me that they never even look at blind (unsolicited) submissions. Then when he heard I was from New Jersey, he said they never even read the work of playwrights from New Jersey. He told me that even when they read scripts, they almost never read beyond page six of any submission because by then they know the play is a dud.
Q: Sounds like a bit of a curmudgeon.
A: He was pretty gruff and was going to hang up but then I asked him if he’d seen my play, With No Apologies. He suddenly got really quiet and said, "Are you Dr. Green?" When I said yes, he said, "Let me tell you: We’re on page six."
Q: So he liked it? The first play you ever wrote and it was produced?
A: Yeah. I’d say almost half the college went into the City to see it. Really what I liked best about With No Apologies was the way the young gay character resonated with the gay and lesbian community. In fact, the "Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians" (PFLAG) produced it as a film and it’s still being shown.
Q: So then came For Tiger Lilies Out of Season—a play that launched you onto a national stage as a playwright.
A: Well, looking back, I’d have to say Tiger Lilies is still my favorite play, and here again it grew out of an intensely personal and private situation that then took on a life of its own. I’d just gotten divorced and diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t totally alone, though, since I still had my two terrific sons. While I was in the hospital receiving treatments, I began keeping a journal, and doing that kept me grounded, although I wasn’t necessarily thinking that this would be suitable material for a play. But I’d say about writing drama what Adrienne Rich once said of poems—that they’re like dreams in that "you put (in them) what you don’t know you know." So out of this terribly frightening personal crisis, this play sprang out as an affirmation of life. The play could try to bring something good out of a situation of alienation and fear that other women were also experiencing. The main character is a photographer who has cancer, and her battle is beyond just a struggle to stay alive. Tiger lilies are an image that is central to her rite of passage through this experience.
Q: And this play really took off.
A: When I sent Tiger Lilies to Samuel French, the editor asked me whether I sent it to any other publisher. When I told him no, he said, "Good. Otherwise we’d have to sue them to get the rights." So it was published by Samuel French and its first production was by Luna Stage, which was then in Bloomfield.
Q: And your career also soared with Like Bees to Honey.
A: This one required more research on my part since I wanted to write it as truthfully as possible. The play loosely relates to an intervention involving a woman who was an alcoholic. My personal context was the fact that I had once hosted an intervention at my home. What piqued my interest was that the subject of women who drink had gotten very little attention. Our society does not seem particularly interested in exploring this phenomenon of women who are alcoholics but can keep it secret.
Q: Other plays of note are Joel and Julia, and your one-act play Firebird. What’s the future for Firebird?
A: Samuel French will publish if I provide a companion piece.
Q: So I suppose you spend your free time locked up in a garret someplace pounding out that companion piece.
A: Actually, I prefer classrooms to garrets. While I truly cherish my experience in the artistic process—or what Anais Nin calls "living twice"—my real passion is for my students. To be a writer, you need to be willing to go into a dark place. All of the demons that are bottled up inside of you suddenly spring up there in the room with you. Teaching is the antithesis. Teaching is interactive and joyous. Whatever energy I have, I would rather devote it to my students. I put my heart and soul into teaching and my real mission—as both a teacher and as a writer—is to bring literature and works of art to students.