Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph collaborates with the Goodman for the first time with his newest play, In the Sick Bay of the Santa Maria. His works include Guards at the Taj, Gruesome Playground Injuries, Animals Out of Paper, The North Pool and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which starred Robin Williams in a 2011 Broadway production after it was named a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A few weeks before rehearsals began for In the Sick Bay of the Santa Maria, Joseph answered a few questions from the production dramaturg Neena Arndt.
NEENA ARNDT: What was the impetus for writing this play?
RAJIV JOSEPH: I had a book when I was a child about Columbus’ voyage to the New World. It had these long rectangular pages, with vivid black and white drawings. Part of the book dealt with how many of the sailors aboard the three ships had grave doubts about this adventure… some feared they’d go over the edge of the world, some feared the doldrums, while others feared sea monsters. The book made a point to depict these fears in its illustrations. In recent years I have felt possessed at times with certain anxieties about the future of our country, the world and human existence. One day, I remembered those drawings in the book—and wondered if there was some parallel between those sailors’ anxieties and mine today. Could this play act as a dramatic inquiry into the very nature of anxiety: how and why we fear the unknown and the future, and how we negotiate those fears?
NA: Do you have a particular process or method for your writing?
RJ: Every play comes to life in a different way, but the best approximation would be that I sketch until I have a clearer idea of what I want to draw.
NA: How would you describe the play’s style?
RJ: A heightened, theatrical nightmare and fantasy.
NA: How do you see this play in relation to your other work? A continuation? A departure?
RJ: In the last five years, I have been increasingly interested in writing plays that take place in the distant past in order to arrive at an idea of our current state of affairs. So in some ways, this play is a continuation of previous plays of mine like Guards at the Taj, Archduke and Describe the Night.
NA: What made you want to become a playwright?
RJ: First I wanted to be a novelist, then a screenwriter and then a playwright. I think I just found the discipline that best suited my skills. I also love collaborating with other theater artists, and seeing my work come to life through the labor of other artists.
Neena Arndt is the Resident Dramaturg at Goodman Theatre.