An Interview with ‘Collaborators’ Playwright John Hodge by Roberta Alves

Playwright John Hodge fills us in on his play Collaborators which has just extended through March 13th at Spooky Action Theater.

Playwright John Hodge. Photo courtesy of Spooky Action Theater.
Playwright John Hodge. Photo courtesy of Spooky Action Theater.

How did a film script about Joseph Stalin became the play Collaborators?

I was approached by a producer interested in putting together a film about Stalin’s youth, drawing upon Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Young Stalin and working with the great director Pawel Pawelokowski (who won an Academy Award last year ago with Ida). Pawel and I spent many happy hours discussing approaches that would somehow knit together the big historical facts with the tale of young brigand whilst avoiding the biopic tropes, but we sort of never got there.

However, I loved the footnote about a dissident playwright being commissioned to write a play about Stalin’s youth. When I read Bulgakov’s crazy, emotionally real plays, I loved it even more, and when I discovered he was a superfan of Moliere, I was hooked. My first teenage date was taking a girl to see Don Juan at a theatre in Glasgow – and no, there was no identification with the hero, only with the author. The more I looked into it, and the more I read about Stalin, the more attractive the concept became, a chance to explore tyranny through the tyrant and his semi-coerced hagiographer.

(L to R): Joe Duquette (Stalin) and Paul Reisman (Bulgakov). Photo by Tony Hitchcock.
(L to R): Joe Duquette (Stalin) and Paul Reisman (Bulgakov) in ‘Collaborators’ at Spooky Action Theater. Photo by Tony Hitchcock.

How would you describe the relationship between Stalin and Bulgakov in Collaborators?

We can (obviously) only speculate about the relationship between Stalin and Bulgakov, but as I have drawn it in Collaborators, I would say there is respect from Stalin and fear – and a sort of hypnotized awe – from Bulgakov, but in the end it is Joseph’s cold pragmatism that trumps everything.

How do you think the American audience will relate to the play?

I hope that any audience can enjoy any play if the characters work – and that’s not for me to judge in this case. I hope that this study of the relationship between tyranny and art has a relevance beyond the Soviet Union in the 1930’s, in fact I’m sure it does.

How, as an author, do you relate to Bulgakov’s journey in Collaborators? Do you share any similar experiences that you have encountered on your own personal journey?

Here is where I attach myself firmly to Bulgakov’s coat-tails. He was a doctor, just as I was once upon a time. He revered Moliere just as I did (see above). And he was a brilliantly talented and innovative writer just like… er…. Tom Stoppard? Honestly, none of us in the free West can really imagine what it’s like to scratch out an existence in the atmosphere of that time. I’m just happy to celebrate his work.

How would you explain the great success of Trainspotting?

I watched Trainspotting recently, having avoided it for 20 years. I enjoyed it, and what struck me was, not surprisingly, the acting. We were so fortunate to strike a rich vein of acting talent at that time and place. That, combined with the platform of Irvine Welsh’s depiction of a world at once familiar and outrageous, was for me what made the film special. Also, I played one of the two security guards who chase Renton in the opening scene, and I say it who shouldn’t – but boy do I steal that scene.

What project are you currently working on?

Like any hack writer, I am working on a whole load of projects at any given time, most of which will never reach a screen of any size. However it does look like we are going to make a Trainspotting sequel this year (I hope) with the same actors, which is an exciting prospect. It’s about middle age. Yes, that thrilling transgressive subject. Buy your tickets now, right?  I also have an idea for another play and I hope to write that later this year.

I hear there is a sequel for Trainspotting that’s coming. Can you fill us in?

I’m afraid I can’t say too much about the sequel. The cast have agreed and we hope to shoot in May/June this year. All I can say is that it takes place in Edinburgh 20 years after the first film…

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.

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Collaborators plays through March 13, 2016 at Spooky Action Theater performing at the Universalist National Memorial Church – 1810 16th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.

LINKS:
‘Collaborators’ at Spooky Action Theater reviewed by David Siegel.

Meet The Cast of Spooky Action Theater’s ‘Collaborators’: Part 1: Paul Reisman.