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CurtainUp' s E-Mail Interview with Peter Zablotsky the author of an Intriguing New Play, H. Finn

Maybe you've seen the pictures for the ads for S Quinn Esq. and read that it may or may not be about the great-great grandsons of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Since the playwright is a lawyer we decided to assign our intrepid DC-NYC theater commuter Les Gutman, who is also a lawyer, to review the play and handle the "sneak peek" end via and E-Mail interview with Peter Zablotsky.

 The letters PZ in the interview that follows precede Mr. Zablotsky's exact words. The letters CU precede CurtainUp's questions that prompted his responses. Les Gutman's review of the play will follow shortly after the opening on Sunday October 26th. --e.s.

CU: The press release for H. Finn, Esq. says you're a full professor of law at Touro. Do you also practice law?
PZ: I still practice, but very little. I do some work for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and take an occasional case when I feel very strongly about the issues raised.

 CU: Since we are not meeting face to face, and I can't do the usual description, could you just give us your age?
PZ: 42, but I didn't look it until this week.

CU: Since you teach (and write/practice?) in New York, are you a Manhattan resident, suburbanite, or ex-urbanite? PZ: I am a confirmed Manhattan resident.

 CU: Where did you grow up and go to school?
PZ: I grew up in Endicott, New York and Stroudsburg, Pa. I went to college at Penn State and law school at Columbia University.

 CU: This is your Off-Broadway debut, your second staged play since 1990. The title and background are certainly intriguing. Could you tell us something about the genesis of this idea?
PZ: I got the idea rather suddenly. I had been working on another play at the time, but when this idea popped into my head, I put everything else aside and focused on it. I suspect I was inspired by what Graham Greene did with Don Quixote. Greene took Cervantes' characters and had their descendants travel the same route in his Monsignor Quixote. I've really done something more than take two of the most quintessential American characters and have their descendants retrace their steps.

 CU: Without necessarily giving away the plot, could you tell us a bit more about these two characters? Do we learn immediately or gradually about their great-great grandfathers? The play apparently takes them on a journey up the Mississippi, but where do they first meet?
PZ: My characters first meet in a jail in New Orleans, where Finn is a legal aid lawyer and Tom is his con-man client. In the first act, we learn that one of Tom's last names is Sawyer, but he uses so many names we can never be sure. These possibilities are explored further in the second and third acts, as their characters make their way up the Mississippi through rural and then urban America. Beyond this, there are many references to Twain; not to write a sequel or adaptation of any of his work, but rather for contrast as much as anything else. The references allow for the re-examination of such elements as the bleached fence, the jail that imprisons innocents, the oppression of Jim, the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, the dishonesty of the Duke and the Dauphin, the attending of one's own funeral, the pursuit by Injun Joe, the sacrificing of oneself for another, the intolerance of confinement, and many others.

 CU: The press release description of H. Finn, Esq. as a "burnt-out defense attorney" evokes visions of hard-boiled detective films? Will your play be likely to confirm this impression?
PZ: My Finn is not hard-boiled. To the contrary, the fact that he actually cares about some of his clients is, on one level, his fatal flaw.

 CU: The play is tagged simply as "a play." If you had to tag it more specifically, would you call it a drama, a fantasy, a comedy, satire, a combination, or what?
PZ: A drama. I believe there is humor in the play as well, but I hope it flows naturally from the characters and the dramatic situations.

 CU: This probably goes back to my question about the genesis of the play. Are you a long-time Mark Twain fan, especially of his two most famous characters? Do you remember your first reading? Have you read many times?
PZ: I've read each novel about three or four times. I first read Tom Sawyer when I was about twelve, and loved it. I read Huckleberry Finn at that time as well, but I didn't like it. Only as an adult did I start to appreciate the book.

 CU: Have you ever traveled the route on which you are sending your characters?
PZ: No, but the director, John Ahlers, made a special trip along the route to prepare himself to direct the play!

 CU: Does your script feature any bits of dialogue from the great-great grandfathers used by the characters?
PZ: Yes, but I prefer not to identify them. It might be fun for those who really know Twain to see how many they can identify.

 CU: Do you number yourself among the many Twain scholars, belong to any Twain societies such as some we've noted on the Internet?
PZ: Actually, I do not. I've never done anything more than read and appreciate Twain.

 CU: The last question raises yet another, there have been a number of books theorizing about Huck being black, Huck's relationship with Jim--is any of this mixed into your play?
PZ: I do know about these theories, and yes, they do figure into the play. In fact, the Finn in my play is black. Not because I believe that Huck was black, but because when Jim tells Huck's future, he says that Huck will have two women in his life--one white and one black. Since there are several white women in the book that affect Huck as a young boy, I proceeded under the assumption that the black woman affected him later in life; I made her his wife.

 CU: Since Mark Twain is one of our most frequently quoted authors, are there any Twainian bits of wisdom that guided you as you were writing your play? If so, could you cite?
PZ: Not really. Instead, I let Twain's descriptions of his characters' lives guide me.

 CU: Also, do you have a quote from your play that you'd like to share with us at this point?
PZ: I don't know if I have a workable quote for you, but I do have a bit of dialogue that captures the flavor and the philosophy of the play. When my Tom is in jail for cheating the men of Southern society and romancing their wives, he is told by Finn he'll have to come up with some money for bail. Finn is assured by Tom that he'll be able to come up with the money, to which Finn responds by saying, "Some social register housewife will give you her butter and egg money, no doubt." To which Tom replies, "More like her cocaine money. Times have changed since we were boys, Mr. Finn."

 CU: I've probably asked some questions that aren't pertinent to the play and omitted others you were expecting me to ask or would like to address. As someone who can imagine a situation involving Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn's great-great grandsons in court and on the Mississippi, you should have no trouble filling in any such "missing" questions along with the answers.
PZ: Actually, I think you have done well.

 ©October 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.

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