The biggest risk is that an offstage character might be described by narrative, and narrative in a play can be deadly. Instead of talking because they want something, characters are talking because something needs to be described or the audience needs information. With Danny, it was fun to make him feel very present onstage, because he is actually the heat under the play.

How important is it to you that your characters be specific? For instance, we learn a lot about Evie during the play, but we learn much less about Danny's father, Clay.

That's true. You don't, for instance, know what Clay's job is, because I don't know either. But there are ways to define a character other than passing along details about their lives and backgrounds. Once this play is in motion, Clay is the only one who takes any action. So although he's the character who we have the least detail about, I'm hoping he's the character the viewer will have the most information about from actions taken. Hopefully by the end of the play, the audience will know that this man is willing to do anything for his son.

Washington University's playwright-in-residence, Carter W. Lewis, in 2007.
Dave Kilper/Washington University
Washington University's playwright-in-residence, Carter W. Lewis, in 2007.


Evie's Waltz
Through November 9 at the Emerson Studio in the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves.
Tickets are $34 to $52. Call 314-968-4925 or visit

What happens when the actor playing Clay asks the director, "What does my character do?"

That's actor's homework. There's a lot of information that the playwright leaves offstage, because the audience doesn't need it. And if a writer starts feeling that he has to put all those details in there, that's when the writer falls back into that trap of narrative. That's when you get stuck in telling the story as opposed to having characters say things because they want something or they're strategizing to get something. Everything characters say and do has to be selfish, in a way, in order for them to get to where they're going. But if I'm being selfish, and my characters are only mouthpieces saying what I need or want them to say about guns or corporations or political campaigns, then the play will fail.

What do you want people to take from Evie's Waltz?

A play for the writer is often about something different than what it is for an audience. To me, something as traumatic as a school shooting is usually an unfortunate convergence of circumstances. That's what the play is about for me — trying to create a balance of blame. And not just of blame, but to suggest that people did what they thought was right, and it still went wrong. So I hope the audience goes away from Evie's Waltz with a much more complexified view of the problem, rather than the kind of knee-jerk reactions that some viewers might have had before seeing the play.

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