Theater Interview: Playwright Charles Grippo Puts the ‘Sex’ in Comedy

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CHICAGO – Charles Grippo doesn’t have much sympathy for politicians who put themselves in hot, scandal-infused water. In fact, he has taken to a platform he knows well, the Chicago theatre scene, to share his satirical insight into the recent trend of sexual enmeshment that has plagued many of the nation’s top pundits and officeholders. Grippo recently caught up with to discuss how personal disastisifaction with government can beget the most acidic of farce.

”Sex Marks the Spot”” target=
”Sex Marks the Spot”
Photo courtesy of Grippo Productions

HollywoodChicago: Tell me about the development of the concept for “Sex Marks the Spot” and what initially sparked your interest in the story.

Charles Grippo (CG): Virtually my interest was because we are so used to witnessing politicians get involved in sex scandals. Really, it just happens one after another after another. I thought it would be an ideal subject for a sex farce because there would be the traditional elements of farce present in that story. So putting the two together, that’s what we have with “Sex Marks the Spot”. I originally wrote it back in the 1990s long before the Clinton/Lewinisky situation.

HollywoodChicago: “Sex Marks the Spot” has played in Indiana, Illinois, and New York. How do audience reactions differ according to culture and location?

CG: They seem to love it across the board. Most of the audiences have just gone wild, because they identify with the witnessing of sex scandals and their subsequent cover-ups. We all see it all of the time. I don’t think it’s the culture so much as that this kind of situation has become so recognizable and universal, which for me, is wonderful [laughs].

HollywoodChicago: How do you pair both entertaining farce and biting satire in the show?

CG: They kind of overlap here to a large extent. You can be very satiric when you’re doing farce but of course you can be farcical without being satiric. The subject matter causes them to overlap here though, which makes my job a lot more fun.

HollywoodChicago: What significance does the return to Chicago, the hometown of the current president, bear for you and the production?

CG: Originally I did it as a limited engagement in Chicago back in January to test it out and workshop it. I always wanted to see it done in Chicago, because it is my hometown and this is where I love and see theatre.

HollywoodChicago: I understand you helm the producing company, New Lincoln Theatre Productions.

CG: New Lincoln Theatre Productions is one of my own theatre companies. I started producing theatre in Chicago over twenty-five years ago under the name. We had done a number of shows at that time, including the female version of “The Odd Couple” and works by David Mamet. I also did a play called “A Weekend Near Madison”. It was a very small storefront theatre in Chicago where we were producing.

Tony Fiorentino and Maggie Graham” target=
Tony Fiorentino and Maggie Graham
Photo courtesy of Grippo Productions

HollywoodChicago: You take particular interest in the wife’s point of view, an often ignored one during these scandals, with this story. Why was gaining the female point of view in these matters so important to you as a playwright?

CG: The female point of view tends to get overlooked. In general the sex scandals involve a male politician, even though now there may be a few instances otherwise. But traditionally politics has been male-dominated and the wives just seem to be ignored. Everyone is so interested in the male and the mistress, not the wife who was hurt or pushed aside. I thought it would be refreshing to take a look at what the wife, and in this case the whole family, feels. I think that is so important, because it is not your neighbor next door. It is a public figure involved in the scandal, so the humiliation becomes public for the entire family. I want to explore how these individuals deal with that kind of humiliation.

HollywoodChicago: Why do you think voters are often more influenced by the personal life of a politician rather than his or her actual ideas and legislative proposals?

CG: Part of the problem with the sex scandals is that the politicians and their handlers do their best to cover it up and keep the public from finding out. I would like people to be able to look at politicians more closely, before they go into the voting booth. One of the problems that we have is all of the corruption going on. We have one governor in prison and another on trial. It seems like there are indictments going on all of the time. It’s up to the voters to go beyond fancy campaign slogans and make more informed decisions.

HollywoodChicago: You have worked as a producer, investor, and entertainment lawyer in the business. How do these roles affect your approach to playwriting, and the more “artistic” side of theatre?

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CG: A lot of times playwrights don’t look at the business side of the theatre and what is practical and not practical. I have seen scripts where playwrights think that they can recreate what you might do in a movie, like a car chase. It is physically and financially impractical. When you write a play, you need to be aware of what can be done on the stage. You have to keep more considerations in mind. A lot of theatre companies are not fully aware of how to deal with the outpour of the recession, you can’t forget the business side of theatre.

HollywoodChicago: In a recent blog post you joked about writing a play with all female characters. What is coming up in terms of future projects for you?

CG: I do have several plays coming up with predominantly female characters. I am working on two plays right now. I can tell you that the first title is “Outrageous Misfortune” and the other one is “A Salvage Job”. But everything is in the very early stages.

“Sex Marks the Spot” runs through July 25, 2010 at the Theatre Building Chicago, at 1225 W. Belmont in Chicago. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit here.
For half-price Chicago theater tickets, visit our partner Goldstar. staff writer Alissa Norby

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© 2010 Alissa Norby,

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