If I could interview Patrick Stewart, I’d ask about this...

Despite many efforts on multiple fronts, I have yet to hear back from his people, so I think that it’s safe to assume I will not be interviewing Sir Patrick Stewart, who is the news because he and Ian McKellan are starring in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land on Broadway. It makes me sad, but I’m not a very big deal, and well, he is. So here are some thoughts on what I would ask the man if I could. (And it should go without saying that if we did the interview, I’d prefer we did it over cups of earl grey tea).

First, his one man A Christmas Carol, which I had the chance to see in the early nineties. I say without hyperbole, that it is one of my favorite theatrical experiences and that the show changed my life. I saw the production at that stage of life where the right piece of art can shatter your brain and reassemble it in new ways, and that’s exactly what Stewart did. I still remember the theater, sitting in the second to last row in the mezzanine, and Stewart came out and with his voice and just a few props, managed to tell a story and capture the pathos and darkness of a story that I so often–before and since–have found a bit twee. He did it with language and the skill of a master thespian and that ability to conjure a world in an empty theater is something that doesn’t always happen and it was incredible. How he thought about that production and what went into thinking about a production where there are no crutches and it’s solely about him.

Stewart grew up in Northern England in the forties and fifties and I’m curious about what it was about the theater that made such an influence on him. The books and plays and films and radio shows that played a role in shaping his own aesthetic and ideas when he was growing up. What the theater meant to him as a young man.

Stewart has said that he saw a production of Godot when he was 17 which starred a then-unknown actor named Peter O’Toole which made a huge impression on him. I’m curious what he made of the play as a young man and how his understanding of the play has changed over time.

Stewart was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company for many years and he worked with Sir Peter Brook a few times, including Brook’s legendary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (which in the minds of some is one of the most important and influential theatrical productions of the Twentieth Century). I’m curious because I can’t help but think of Brooks’ thinking about theater as being key to Stewart’s A Christmas Carol and the way that Brook worked and how Brook has shaped his work going forward.

After all, Brook tried to get away from realism and naturalism and find a new way to get at the heart of the material–and dressing up in awkward uncomfortable costumes, working with green screens and speaking a lot of meaningless technobabble–as happened all too often in Star Trek, having been taught by and worked with Brook sounds like great preparation.

The theatrical roles he has yet to perform. He’s doing Beckett and Pinter in repertory this fall, but what else is he interested in exploring. I’d love to see him perform more Beckett, but I’d love to see him tackle Anton Chekhov (he'd make a great Vanya) and Eugene O’Neill (Long Day's Journey Into Night?) as well. I’m also curious what Stewart would make of Sam Shepard, who we think of as such a quintessentially American playwright. I’d also love to see him tackle comedy–maybe The Man Who Came to Dinner? But more than just listing great plays, what is it about a play and a role that makes him interested in spending months with it.

Working with Ian McKellan and how different it is working together on these plays than the previous time they co-starred in a play, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and how it differs from working together on a film.

Last question: how does it feel to have done more for educating Americans about tea than probably anyone since 1776? “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”


Jeff Smith and RASL

Like just about everyone who reads comics, I like Jeff Smith. Between Bone, Rasl, his Shazam book, it's hard not to like his work. He's also a great person to interview simply because he's a great talker. If you've ever seen him at an event he's great at presenting his work and the ideas behind in a way that not everyone can do, but he makes it look easy.

I had the chance to talk with Jeff recently about RASL, which is out in a new hardcover collection (and is a gorgeous book) and his webcomic "T√ľki Saves the Humans," which launches next month online (more on that in the article). We also talked about Nikola Tesla, physics (though I couldn't keep up my end of that part of the conversation) and the desert.


"The Property" of Rutu Modan

Cards on the table, I think Rutu Modan's "The Property" is one of the best graphic novels of 2013. I know, the year isn't over yet, but honestly the book hit me like nothing else so far this year. It's an incredible piece of work from a gifted cartoonist.

The book is about the relationship between a young woman and her grandmother (which, as I mentioned in the interview, I found a lot like my own relationship with my grandmother). It's about Poland. It's about Israel. It's about property and memory, the past and the present, and about family.

It's a book that I keep thinking, have read more than once, and it's a beautiful book that I cannot recommend enough. (The interview isn't too shabby, either)


Exploring "The Thicket" with Joe R. Lansdale

I'm a huge fan of Joe Lansdale and have been for many years. He's a great writer of horror short stories and mystery novels, wrote the beloved Hap and Leonard series of thrillers, is responsible (along with Tim Truman) for what I think are the best Jonah Hex comics ever made, wrote for "Batman: The Animated Series" (one of the best cartoon shows ever). There's "Bubba Ho-Tep," which was based on his short story and "Incident Off and On a Mountain Road" which based on another story. His long list of award-winning novels include "The Bottoms," "Edge of Dark Water," "A Fine Dark Line."

His new book is "The Thicket," which is a departure for him, but it's also a book that is clearly a Joe Lansdale book. It's a Western set in East Texas at the turn of the century and there are similarities to "True Grit" and "The Searchers" but Lansdale points out that the plot of getting revenge on a gang who killed someone or going after someone who kidnapped a relative is a trope of the genre. As he rightly points out in the interview, it's what the writer does with this is what matters and what distinguishes the book. In Lansdale's case, he crafts a book that's funny and strange and bloody and romantic. It's a book where the good guys win, although there's a cost, and which refuses to sugarcoat the past.

It's a great read.