Playwright embraces the duality of dramatic form

Steven Dietz, acclaimed Seattle playwright, named his daughter Ruby Clementine because the name made him and his wife smile.

Dietz is a resident of Queen Anne but calls home Queen-Mont due to equal time spent on the Hill and in Fremont. He has a kind smile, a friendly handshake and, if you attend one of his plays, the dialogue that he writes just might follow you home - he is very good at what he does.

"There is a sort of energy that a play has to generate that is different from a novel or a short story," Dietz said. "It really needs to fill a room, fill a space."

His recent play "Fiction," which just concluded a run at ACT Theatre, is centered on a married couple - both writers. Dietz fills that space with a mysterious plot and has his characters say things like "achingly vibrant" and "I hate to write - I like to have written."

If you are a writer, this is a line that resonates.

"It is a very schizophrenic thing to be a playwright," said Dietz, seated in a café atop the Hill. "You have all the solitude of a writer, but then the flipside of that is this enormous social component with directors and actors. It is the most private and public of the writing artforms."

Dietz, who began his career as a director, embraces this duality and is fond of saying that the director in him writes his plays. He describes the structure of fiction as a Rubik's Cube: questions have to be answered and secrets have to be revealed.

"I know that the act of structuring is as much the work of the director in me as it is the writer in me," he said.

In his latest play, the structuring is seamless. The set, which changes from a café table and two chairs to a desk and chair, is so simple that it leaves room to hear the richness of the dialogue. There are no costume changes, and the words and emotions take center stage.

"My impulse is always to attempt to energize the play," Dietz said. "Whether it is with surprise or conflict - I am raising questions for the audience and they don't know where this play is going."

Audiences are on the edge of their seats but enjoying the ride as they go.

"I love to be surprised when I go to the theater," Dietz continued. "On one level you try to write the plays that you would like to attend."

On every level, Dietz does just that. He describes a successful play as one that lingers in the minds of audiences after it has ended.

"I mainly just hope that I give people something to talk about on their way home," he said. "Something that will stay in their mind until the next day or week."

This, according to Dietz, makes theater the polar opposite of pop culture, which exists to serve the moment.

"You hope to not be that disposable," he added.

Dietz has written 25 plays, which have been produced and seen at more than 100 regional theaters as well as Off-Broadway. There is a long list of countries where his work has been staged: England, France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Singapore, Slovenia and South Africa.

While the moment is served, his words linger internationally and exist independently of him.

"My plays were probably my children until I had a family," Dietz said. "They are traces of my life, and usually I don't even know where they all are."

This is good news to a playwright; theaters around the world are taking his stories and running with them. "I sort of love how these stories are happening and it is out of my hands."

Dietz has watched his plays grow over and over again, finding different theaters and new audiences. The text doesn't change, but the power and the appeal varies with every performance; the plays take on a life of their own.

"The performance is different every time and that is the nature of it," Dietz said. "That is the leap of faith that is built into the artform."

He is currently working on a new play for Seattle Children's Theatre and the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. Like most leaps of faith, his plays are generated by things that he wants to find out about and not things that he already knows.

"Is this something that I want to devote the next chapter of my life to?" Dietz wondered.

Since becoming a father, his answers are more discerning.

"If you are blessed to be able to be a parent, your priorities shift enormously," he explained. "I really don't waste any of my work time on projects that I don't avidly believe in. If something is going to take up my time, it needs to be important because I hate to be away - four days seems much too long."

Enlarging on the naming of his daughter, Dietz said that he and his wife - Allison Gregory, a fellow playwright - dubbed her Ruby Clementine because on a gray day in Seattle, if you say her name, the day just seems a little bit brighter.

With magical powers over the weather, it is no wonder that her dad can't be gone too long.

You can write Rizty Ryciak at To contact the Magnolia News, send an email to mageditor@nwlink or call 461-1284.[[In-content Ad]]