Kenneth Lin, whose play said Saïd recently played at the Marin Theatre Company in February, returns to the Bay Area for PF’s In The Rough Reading Series for a reading of his new play Dovetail. The play, written in verse, deals with Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton, two giants of The Enlightenment who independently and spontaneously created calculus, in a meeting during the closing days of their lives. The play will first be shown at Stanford University on Monday May 5th at 7:30pm, and then at the Berkeley Rep the following night on Tuesday May 6th at 7:00pm.
We asked Kenneth Lin what drew him to the story of these mathematicians:
PF: Having read three of your plays, I find that the voice of each is so unique that I wouldn't even know it's the same playwright. How do you approach crafting a style for a specific play?
KL: I think that my plays are so research intensive and therefore end up obsessing me every time I'm in the process. So, when I finally get to the other side, I need a clean break and I need to find a way to get my brain moving in a different direction. Also, whenever a theater commissions me, I feel a lot of responsibility and I always want to give my all, and that means pushing myself stylistically and giving them the most innovative play that I can be writing at that moment, which is kind of wonderful and harrowing all at the same time. Then again, it could just be whatever pills I'm taking at any given moment. :-)
PF: What is the genesis or inspiration for Dovetail?
KL: I had always known that Leibniz and Newton, according to Western historians--and I emphasize Western because people were working on Calculus related theories in India and Asia years before Newton and Leibniz--had invented Calculus simultaneously and independently, and I always thought that this was sort of amazing. Then, later on, I learned that when animals evolve an adaptation independently, say for example, eyes, an adaptation that so much unrelated fauna evolved, it expresses something very important about the world that animals live in. In the world we live in, seeing is so important and so selected for that all these animals came to it somehow over billions of years, on their own. Then you have the theorists that argue that certain adaptations are so complex as to prove divine intervention. So, what does it mean about the world and God when two incredibly complex systems thought evolve simultaneously? Why do we need Calculus so much in our modern world?
PF: Is Dovetail your first verse play? What are the challenges or advantages of working in verse?
KL: I think being a multi-cultural, bi-lingual writer also has a lot to do with my yen for continuing to look at my craft from different perspectives. Who was it, Wittgenstein who argued that there cannot be an idea that cannot be expressed with language? Well, how does thinking in two languages fit into the equation, then? I know, personally, that there are things I cannot express as well in English as I can express in Chinese. Likewise, there are ideas that I can't express as well in prose as I can in verse. The challenge is that verse takes a lot longer to write because one is constrained, but the neat thing is that once the language is constrained, if frees you characters to be more magical, as their speech must be more eccentric to transcend the meter. Dovetail is my second verse play, I wrote a much smaller play about myth and commerce in rhyming couplets while in grad school.
PF: What's up next step for you?
KL: Well, right now I feel myself in the final stretches of finishing a play about the Curta Calculator for Manhattan Theatre Club. The Curta Calculator is the world's first handheld four function calculator. It was invented by a concentration camp prisoner who was kept alive by the Nazis who wanted to present it as a gift to Hitler. After that, I have to finish another commission for Arena Stage. In the meantime, I'm developing a tv show and working on a some screenplays before getting my play Po Boy Tango ready for it's world premiere at the Norhtlight Theatre Company in Chicago. So, busy weeks, months, lifetimes ahead!