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Interview with American playwright Les Thomas

Today our guest is Les Thomas an American playwright traveling to Europe in early 2018 to continue researching Pontius Pilate for a stage play. We have conducted an interview with him.

What brought you to write a play about Pontius Pilate? Why are you still researching his history?

Seeing Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of Pontius Pilate in RKO Radio Pictures’ 1935 ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ was life-changing! Rathbone’s Pilate displayed such evocative guilt at his actions that I was crying for his pain; Jesus was literally out of the frame (for those who've seen the film know Jesus is never fully shown in a literal frame of the print but remains one of his most powerful filmic “appearances”). And so during Lent of 2014, I wrote a full-length play entitled ‘Acts of Pilate’ based largely off apocryphal texts examining Pilate’s role during The Passion. To me, it fell flat as a work in the art of the drama. This was roundly the critical consensus. To my surprise, it found most love from clergy who were learning new things and viewing Pilate with a less ecclesiastical looking-glass. I wasn't satisfied and knew I would have to look further and dig deeper if I had any hope of similar excitation with audiences at large.

What is so interesting about Pontius Pilate?

For such a consequential politician and warrior; how little we know! History has given us two distinct and largely accepted versions of a man, merciless tyrant and hand-wringer. This does not mean one negates the other but rather that reconciliation with reason is important.

Which is your approach to the undertaking?

Using the extended Apocrypha, my first approach, a failed approach, made the writing process more transliteral while I used too much vanity naturalism most won't swallow nowadays. Of course this was by design, not my design; but acceptance of a telling with socio-political and religious implications of its own. An easy exercise that raised more questions than answers. Traveling to his birthplace and multiple burial sites dotted across France and Italy is a start and the kind of inspiration necessary to inform the art of the drama. I've reached the point where dry readings and dubious internet research are not enough. It reminds me of the beginning of the film ‘Citizen Kane’ when the editor seeking Kane’s obituary states: “It isn't enough to tell us what a man did. You've got to tell us who he was!”

How do you plan to continue your research in Europe as an American playwright?

With Paris as a base of study, various day travels to points of interest and interactions with clergy and academics create such a, mission, of sorts. But this is not a religious exercise in full scope; my tragedian and queer and humanistic lens will inform the art of the drama to varying degrees. I'm most hopeful in my planned talks with Coptic Christian Clergy who venerate Pontius Pilate as a Saint. I encourage anyone reading, in or outside Europe, wishing to discuss Pontius Pilate, to contact me via Twitter @byLesThomas. The bulk of my travels will be during Winter ‘17/18.

Why do you think you have been 'chosen' to accomplish your mission?

To say I was “chosen” would be the height of hilarity, for me. History might choose us by the simple passage of time, but it is ultimately what one does with the moment history hands you. If anyone understood this, it was surely Pontius Pilate. So any new interpretation of his role in The Passion should be mindful of that; relatable to our terribly modern lives and just maybe, help us better understand our lives in moments of horribly tragic, horribly personal conflict.

Interview with American playwright Les Thomas Reviewed by JaamZIN on 4:43:00 PM Rating: 5
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