Jacques Lamarre is this area’s Kevin Bacon. Everyone in the greater Hartford arts scene is seemingly connected to the talented and prolific playwright (his bio is listed after the interview). I decided to gently tip my toes into the fascinating brain of Lamarre to see what makes him tick.
David Ryan Polgar: The production of Jacques Lamarre Has Gone Too Far features four original one-act plays. Is there a common theme that runs throughout the plays?
Jacques Lamarre: It’s funny that there is a bit of a common theme that runs through the plays, but it was unintentional. I gave the Hole in the Wall about 7 or 8 short scripts to choose from to create the program. They were all written at different times and for different reasons. I was not imagining that there would be any similarities between the plays, other than the fact that I wrote them and they were all comedies.
The individual directors chose the four they were most interested in staging as part of the project. When I saw all four of them together for the first time, I realized there were certain terms or actions that popped up across the plays. For example in two of the plays, someone shoves an electronic device down their underpants. But mostly I realized that they were about how, as modern Americans, we behave very poorly toward one another. I was raised with good manners and I feel like we are on a giant Slip’n’Slide heading down, down, down.
DRP: What inspires you to write?
JL: First and foremost, I love to make people laugh, whether it is conversationally or through performance. It is an instant reaction and instantly gratifying. Second, I’ll be reading something or seeing a film or hearing a story and my mind will register, “That would make a great play.” After working in theatre marketing and administration for two decades and working on plays by so many other writers, I knew I had it in me to get these stories out on stage. Second, I am a total coward and being the playwright means that once you’ve written the script, someone else has to do all the work to make it happen. I show up at the Opening Night party and eat the free chow.
DRP: What is your biggest fear with playwriting?
JL: That people will not find the work funny. It is horrible to attend a comedy and the audience is not laughing. It is a humorist’s biggest nightmare and painful for everyone involved – the audience, the actors, the director and, ultimately, the playwright. You can tell a fake or uncomfortable laugh in a minute. I took a stab twice at doing comedy material for myself in front of an audience and it was a total bomb both times. It was very frightening to feel like you were ruining someone’s night out. Now I write my material and make someone else say it, but I’m not sure that level of remove really protects you, especially when your name is in the title.
DRP: What will a night of watching Jacques Lamarre Has Gone Too Far be like for an audience member?
JL: If I was a child in the audience, I’d probably have a parent’s hands over my ears. This is not for kids! Not because it is extremely dirty or filled with foul language, but the things that are tackled are adult concerns and the humor is adult in nature. Hopefully people will find the plays funny and laugh a lot. One of the things about today’s comic writers is that they find the need to soften the humor or leaven mean-spiritedness with a touching scene or two. These plays do not really embrace that so much. There are trying to be funny start to finish, like a Saturday Night Live skit or a John Waters film. They have a bite to them, so hopefully the audience will leave with teeth marks on them.
DRP: What’s the greatest compliment that you can receive as a writer?
JL: Laughter and attention. Nothing is worse for a writer when they see people get restless or listless. A walkout over content can be a triumph for some, but it also can be a message that your work is not worth their time.
DRP: What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
JL: That I can take criticism very personally. It takes me a while to get over it. I’ve been trying to be very Buddhist and let it roll off of me, but sometimes you just want to karate kick someone in the stomach.
DRP: What’s your most annoying habit?
JL: Karate kicking someone in the stomach. People get pretty annoyed with it. That and I can sometimes be honest to a fault and people aren’t prepared for it.
DRP: If you had a time machine, what time period would you go to and why?
JL: I think I would like to go to the early 60s. It was after the uptight 1950s and before things got ugly with Vietnam. I love the whole swinging 60s aesthetic that you see in the old James Bond films. I think life should be like a slutty Frankie and Annette beach party movie, but with a serial killer thrown in for good measure.
DRP: Do you ever get writer’s block?
JL: I don’t really get writer’s block. I write very quickly after ruminating for a while. For me, the biggest problem is finding the time. I’m really flippin’ busy with work, volunteer commitments and taking care of life at home. When I write for drag performer Varla Jean Merman, she generally sets the schedule, which can be frustrating as I may have a lot going on at the time that she needs the material. I can write a full-length play in a week and then spend time editing it. It just sort of vomits out and then I clean up the mess.
DRP: So Jacques Lamarre, have you gone too far?
JL: I just referred to my work as vomit, so what do you think?
Jacques Lamarre is the Director of Communications and Special Projects at The Mark Twain House and Museum. He wrote the full-length comedy Gray Matters, which was performed by the Emerson Theater Collaborative at New York’s Midtown International Theatre Festival (nominated for five awards including Outstanding Playwriting). The production was subsequently remounted at the Mystic Arts Center and the Charter Oak Cultural Center. Gray Matters had a reading as part of Little Theater of Manchester’s Evenings at 7 series. His short play Stool was premiered at the New Works New Britain Festival and was a Top Ten finalist for the New York 15 Minute Play Festival. His short comedy The Family Plan was a semi-finalist for Fusion Theatre’s “The Seven” and has been recently adapted into an opera by composer Philip Martin. It will be receiving its premiere on November 13th as part of Hartford Opera Theater’s “New in November.”
As a member of the Floating Theater Company, Jacques will make his showcase debut on November 11 with the short work The Rub at Middletown’s Buttonwood Tree. As a co-writer for international drag chanteuse Varla Jean Merman, he has worked on eight shows including The Girl with the Pearl Necklace, Anatomically Incorrect, The Loose Chanteuse, and The Book of Merman. Their shows have been performed around the globe including the Sydney Opera House, Joe’s Pub and ARS NOVA in New York, Le Chat Noir in New Orleans, the Victoria Theater in San Francisco, the Theatre Offensive in Boston, and more. Jacques also co-wrote the screenplay for the film Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads, which has been screened at the Provincetown International Film Festival, the New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.