Filmmaker/journalist Spencer Parsons chats with actor/playwright Wallace Shawn for this week’s cover story in The Austin Chronicle. Shawn’s 1975 play, A Thought in Three Parts, is currently having its official U.S. premiere at Austin’s Vortex Theater (through May 26). Shawn discusses the legend of his once-banned sex opus for the article:
Austin Chronicle: Well, regardless of stipulating nudity or sex acts onstage, you often ask very provocative questions about sex. It’s been some 30 years since you wrote A Thought in Three Parts, which is extreme in a particular way, but how do you see it now fitting in with the rest of your work?
Wallace Shawn: I’m sort of … I’m not sure why. Obviously, this is something that interests a lot of people, certainly me, and I’m sort of wondering why I sort of haven’t put it into more of my other plays. I mean, people talk about it. I’m not sure I can really answer the question. I mean, I don’t particularly like the fact that everybody goes around wearing clothes anyway. I find that, to use your words, a disappointment, and I suppose there’s obviously something refreshing about, say, a nude beach or a play where people are naked. There’s something refreshing about it, and there’s a sense in which a certain strain or tension is removed when you see people who are not worried about being naked.
I suppose there’s a certain sense in which you couldn’t write too many plays in which people performed sexual acts, because they’re not really performing them, they’re pretending to do so to some extent, and it’s a kind of, well … Well, for instance, Tom Stoppard has written a play over nine hours long. If “The Youth Hostel” was over nine hours long, it might become tiresome. But I don’t know, my experience of having seen this play – and I saw it in London only a couple of years ago – it was very pleasant and agreeable, that particular aspect. Of course, I don’t mean that the feelings of the characters are very pleasant, because some of them aren’t.