Theatrical ‘Blessing’ comes to campus

Lee Blessing, a Tony and Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright, believes a great play starts with the audience. He believes, as he told USF students and faculty Thursday evening, that the best plays make people confront their attitudes.

“Why am I so concerned about audiences?” he said. “Because it’s the only way I know how to make a meaningful play.”

His lecture, “Who are We Writing For? Life and Art in an Ungrammatical Age,” was about the ways in which artistic expression can be altered when countries become empires.

Blessing’s talk was part of the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) series titled Talk of the Arts. CVPA Dean Ron Jones allocated $5,000 to each school to bring a guest artist of their choosing to participate in the series.

Blessing’s most well-known work, “A Walk in the Woods,” ran on Broadway and on London’s West End. The play is about the walks of American and Soviet Union arms limitation negotiators after World War II.

USF theater professor David Mann was excited to have Blessing speak on campus.

“He is a playwright who both has a long history of plays and is also very current,” he said. Mann also said that Blessing continues to write plays and called them “very act-able and good for the students to dig into and talk about.”

Blessing spoke with one class on Thursday and will meet with another on Friday. In anticipation of his visit, many classes have spent the last two weeks reading his plays. Blessing noticed their preparedness.

“They were well prepared and had a lot of good questions,” he said.

Blessing’s visit to the University also includes a reading of his newest play, “Perilous Night.” Two teachers and two students will read the play, which tells the tale of white racism in America. After the reading, there will be a question and answer session with Blessing.

Blessing calls “Perilous Night” part of an accidental trilogy, coming after “Black Sheep” and “Flag Day.” He wrote the play after reading a story about a woman who hit a homeless man with her car and continued to drive home with him on her windshield. He ended up bleeding to death in her garage.

“Really it’s a play which examines an intersection between how insane people view time, view the future and the past, and how they view each other,” he said.

“I think ultimately the play leaves us questioning whether it is safe to live in the future or the past or the present. Beyond that I am not sure what it is about.”

Plays such as this one attempt to make members of the audience realize that they may be the problem, said Blessing.

Brent Reams, a junior majoring in theater, is one of the students who will perform at the reading.

“I’m so nervous that I might not do his character justice. What if I am not performing it the way he wrote?” he said. “You have to wonder what is going on in his head while you’re saying his words. It’s nerve-wracking.”

The reading will take place on Friday in the Theatre Art Rehearsal building at 7 p.m. Admission is free.