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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Feb. 18, 1999)
VIVIAN from page 9
human characters. His plays tend to
focus on familial relationships and
their boundaries of communication.
“His plays appeal to you on a real
level,” Kay Vivian said. “You think
(the characters) are this average fami
ly. But there’s all these undercurrents
in their lives, and they can’t talk about
Robert Vivian’s play “Something
Is Wrong” exemplifies this tone of
uncertainty. The story revolves around
a middle-class family vacationing in
their summer house in northern
Michigan. As the play progresses, the
characters drink more and more,
revealing that something is profoundly
missing from each one’s life.
Vivian based die play off the expe
rience of vacationing with his own
“There’s this urgency to pack a lot
of emotional energy into this short
time. Frankly, those vacations are
more exhausting than relaxing,” he
Another often-produced Vivian
play, “Our Own Marguerite,” tells the
bitter, stark story of a working-class
couple. The husband, who used to
cheat on and beat his wife, has been
physically incapacitated by a construc
tion accident. The wife is left to care
for the shell of a man she bitterly
The blunt, black reality ofVivian’s
plays shocks those who know him.
‘Teople always say, ‘You look like
such a nice guy. Where do you get that
stuff?”’ Vivian said.
Because of his play’s disturbing
nature, Vivian’s parents rarely come to
see them performed.
“They keep asking when I’m
going to write something lighter,”
Given Vivian’s typical subject mat
ter it comes as no surprise that his
favorite playwright is Anton Chekhov,
a Russian writer known for the enig
matic troubles of his characters.
Vivian especially appreciates
Chekov’s subtlety and his focus on
“With Chekhov’s characters,
you’re watching them, and it doesn’t
seem like anything is happening at all,
but their interior lives are tumultuous,”
In fact, seeing Chekhov’s play
“The Cherry Orchard” planted the
seed of a playwright in Vivian.
Vivian didn’t always plan to be an
author. During his college years, he
played baseball in Oklahoma and at
UNL. It wasn’t until he began to attend
the University of Nebraska-Omaha
that he devoted himself to the study of
English. Then, he spent a semester
studying in London - an experience
dial changed his life.
“I saw plays every single night,”
Vivian said. “It was a totally new world
that I had never been exposed to.”
While in London, Vivian saw a
production of “The Cherry Orchard.”
“Intellectually, I didn’t follow it.
Emotionally, it took my breath away,”
A year later, Vivian found himself
“I think we aU deal with voices on
~ some level - voices from die past.
Drama is the most direct way to deal
with those,” Vivian said.
But despite the traditional call of
New York theater society, Vivian
decided to stay in Omaha. And despite
his physical distance from the hub of
activity, he has had success getting his
Being an author of plays is a bit
different than being an author of nov
els orpoetry. It isn’t enough to get pub
lished. Playwrights want to get their
So when Vivian sends out a new
script, he sends it to actual theaters,
hoping they will consider it for an
Vivian regularly sends his work to
two New York theaters, the Theatre
Studio and the Manhattan Class
But New York isn’t the only place
to see Vivian’s work. This June,
Omaha’s Blue Bam Theater will pre
sent Vivian’s “Something is Wrong.”
And according to Vivian, living in
Nebraska has fostered his artistic
“I think it can either make or break
you,” Vivian said. “You must forge
your own kind of voice in Nebraska.
There isn’t a tremendous network of
theater, with some wonderful excep
tions like the Blue Bam and UNO and
Creighton. You’re pretty much on your
own. It’s a strange kind of blessing in a
Vivian believes that living in
Nebraska helped him avoid the trends
and criticism his fellow playwrights in
New York may be susceptible to.
“I guess I embrace obscurity. I
haven’t been exposed to major criti
cism. Criticism during a writer’s for
mative years can make you pretty neu
rotic. Luckily, I’ve avoided that.”
Vivian said living in Nebraska and
having his plays produced in New York
was tiie best of both worlds.
“You can go out there, see them
performed, and then come back to
your life,” he kid.
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