Dietz, Steven 1958-
DIETZ, Steven 1958-
PERSONAL: Born June 23, 1958, in Denver, CO; father a railroad engineer; married Allison Gregory; children: Ruby. Education: University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, B.A., 1980.
ADDRESSES: Home—4416 Thackeray Northeast, Seattle, WA 98105. Agent—International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Playwright and artistic director. Affiliated with Playwrights' Center, Minneapolis, MN, 1980-91; Quicksilver Stage, Minneapolis, cofounder, 1983-86; Midwest Playlabs, Minneapolis, artistic director, 1987-89; Sundance Institute, Sundance, UT, resident director, 1990; Contemporary Theatre, Seattle, WA, associate artist, 1990-91. Director of plays, including Standing on My Knees, 1982; 21-A, 1984; The Voice of the Prairie, 1985; Harry and Claire, 1985; A Country Doctor, 1986; Auguste Moderne, 1986; T Bone n Weasel, 1986-87; Lloyd's Prayer, 1987; The Einstein Project, 1987 and 1992; Saint Erik's Crown (opera), 1989; The Wild Goose Circus, 1990; Tears of Rage, 1991; New Business, 1991; and Home and Away, 1992.
AWARDS, HONORS: Jerome Foundation fellowship, 1982, 1984; McKnight fellowship in directing, 1985, and playwriting, 1989; Theatre Communications Group fellowship in directing, 1987; Society of Midland Authors award, 1988; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1989; Kennedy Center grants, for Still Life with Iris and Fiction; PEN award for Lonely Planet; and Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest award, for The Rememberer.
(With Roberta Carlson) Brothers and Sisters (musical), produced in Minneapolis, MN, 1982.
Railroad Tales, produced in Minneapolis, MN, 1983.
Random Acts, produced in Minneapolis, MN, 1983.
Carry On, produced in Minneapolis, MN, 1984.
(And director) Wanderlust, produced in Minneapolis, MN, 1984.
(With Greg Theisen) Catch Me a Z (musical), produced in Minneapolis, MN, 1985.
(With Gary Rue and Leslie Ball) Painting It Red (musical; produced in St. Paul, MN, 1986), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1990.
Burning Desire, produced in St. Paul, MN, 1987.
Foolin' around with Infinity (produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1987), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Eric Bain Peltoniemi) Ten November (musical; produced in Chicago, IL, 1987), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1987.
God's Country (produced in Louisville, KY, 1988; produced in New York, NY, 1992), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Eric Bain Peltoniemi) Happenstance (musical), produced in Seattle, WA, 1989.
After You (produced in Louisville, KY, 1990; produced in New York, NY, 1991), published in More Ten-Minute Plays from Actor's Theatre of Louisville, edited by Michael Dixon, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1992.
To the Nines (produced in Seattle, WA, 1991), published in The Twentieth Century, edited by Dan Fields, Rain City Press (Seattle, WA), 1991.
Halcyon Days (produced in Seattle, WA, 1991), Rain City Press (Seattle, WA), 1991.
Trust (two-act; produced in Seattle, WA, 1992), Rain City Press (Seattle, WA), 1992.
Lonely Planet (produced in Seattle, WA, 1992), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY, 1994.
The Rememberer (produced in Seattle, WA, 1994), Rain City Projects (Seattle, WA), 1993.
The Nina Variations: A Play, Rain City Projects (Seattle, WA), 1996.
Dracula (adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1996.
Private Eyes (produced in Louisville, KY, 1996), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1998.
Still Life with Iris: A Play (for children; produced in Seattle, WA), Rain City Projects (Seattle, WA), 1997.
Silence (adaptation of Shusaku Endo's novel), produced c. 1998.
Force of Nature (adaptation of Goethe's novella Elective Affınities), produced c. 1999.
Fiction (two-act), produced in Princeton, NJ, 2003.
Inventing Van Gogh, produced 2003.
Over the Moon (two-act; adapted from the work of P. G. Wodehouse), produced in Seattle, WA, 2003.
The Spot, produced in Louisville, KY, 2004.
Author of play Rocket Man, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), and of screenplay The Blueprint, 1992. Contributor to periodicals, including American Theatre. Works published in anthologies, including Actor's Book of Gay and Lesbian Plays, Penguin (New York, NY), 1995; and Humana Festival '97: The Complete Plays, edited by Smith and Kraus, 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: Although he never took a class in his craft, Steven Dietz has become one of the most successful playwrights of his generation to emerge from Colorado. His stage dramas, which include More fun than Bowling, God's Country, and Private Eyes, have been produced by theaters across the United States, as well as internationally, and range from satire to serious commentaries and adaptations of works by others. Calling Dietz "unique" due to his continued focus on politics, a Contemporary Dramatists essayist praised the playwright as "prolific and diverse, and he has a voice that is always changing and yet recognizable as his own." As Dietz himself commented in Contemporary Dramatists: "I believe that, at its best, the theatre can serve as a social forum, a place where members of a community can gather to confront those things which affect them. A place for reasoning and rage, laughter and loss, recognition and discussion."
Dietz was born in Denver, Colorado, the son of a career railroader. When he finished college, he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and began an acting career. He wrote his first play out of necessity, when a production of the Children's Theatre Company in which he was cast was lacking a script. With this success, he authored more plays produced in Minneapolis, and also began directing plays by other writers. In more recent years, Dietz's plays have been produced in Seattle, Washington, where he now makes his home, although some have made debuts in cities such as San Diego, Washington, D.C., and Louisville, Kentucky.
Dietz's topics can sometimes be disturbing, as in Foolin' around with Infinity, wherein two men who work underground in a government nuclear weapons facility in Utah suffer from constant fear of the end of mankind, even as they guard the button that can make it happen. His plays are timely, and often incorporate actual news events or the politics of the day. Ten November, for example, is a retelling of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior in 1975.
In God's Country, Dietz replicates the 1984 murder of Denver-based talk-show host Alan Berg by The Order, a neo-Nazi, white supremacist group that was founded by Robert Matthews in 1983. Dietz provides background on how the group grew and increased its membership and power base prior to targeting Berg for death due to his constant attach on their ultraconservative values. The downfall of The Order, whose members were charged with racketeering, is also covered in the play.
Dietz's Trust is about trust and how it is betrayed. Back Stage West critic Dany Margolies, who commented on a Hollywood production of the play, wrote that the drama is "carefully crafted in its structure and characters, ostensibly skewering L.A.'s music scene and mankind's pathetic attempts at enduring love."
The two main characters in Lonely Planet are the retiring Jody, who owns a map shop, and Carl, who spends most of his free time in Jody's store. "It's only as Dietz's leisurely paced script unfolds, however, and as Carl begins to clutter the shop with an assortment of chairs, that we better understand the bond these two share," noted Kristina Mannion in Back Stage West. The play recalls Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs in that by play's end, the set is filled with seating furniture, each chair representing a friend of the two protagonists who has died of AIDS. David Sheward wrote in BackStage that "the most refreshing part of Lonely Planet is its subtlety. The symbolism of the maps and the chairs is not heavy handed and the two men don't wear their emotions or preferences on their sleeves. Gay sexuality isn't even brought up until well into the second act."
Force of Nature is an adaptation of Goethe's novella Elective Affınities, and revolves around an aristocratic man and woman who, although married, each take another romantic partner. Variety reviewer Chris Jones called Dietz's play "one of those savvy period adaptations that provides an erudite evening of old-fashioned theater while simultaneously offering an audience a decent helping of contemporary relevance."
Fiction is about Michael and Linda, a writing couple who have been married for sixteen years. While Michael's work has not amounted to success, Linda's first novel, set in South Africa, gained her literary recognition and a faculty job at a university. When Linda is discovered to have a brain tumor that will end her life in three weeks, she asks only that Michael allow her to read his diaries. While she discovers that he had a month-long affair at a writers' colony, the question becomes whether what Michael has written is entirely fact, or perhaps contains a bit of fiction. When Abby, the other woman, shows up in the second act, having learned of Linda's illness, Linda realizes that she had also met her, and had appropriated a horrific real-life experience Abby had shared with her for her bestseller. "What we have here is a series of betrayals, a sense that nothing is quite as represented," wrote Stefan Kanfer in a review of Fiction for the New Leader. "Therein lies the appeal of Fiction, a narrative full of surprises as it traverses time and space."
After the birth of his daughter, Ruby, Dietz began to writing for children, and his Still Life with Iris was awarded a Kennedy Center grant. In an interview with Denver Post reviewer John Moore, Dietz said that writing for kids is "the hardest writing you will ever do. It's harder because kids take their imagination for granted. They are the most honest audience. . . . You can get through a lifetime in the 'adult American theater' and never really learn how to construct a story as a writer. When you write plays for kids, that's when you are tested. It's a gut-check."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Dramatists, sixth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
American Theatre, December, 1995, John Istel, "Risking Sentiment," p. 38; November, 2002, Jim O'Quinn, "The Future of New Work," p. 17.
Back Stage, March 11, 1994, David Lefkowitz, review of Lonely Planet, p. 36; July 21, 1995, David Sheward, review of Lonely Planet, p. 40; June 7, 1996, Irene Backalenick, review of God's Country, p. 52.
Back Stage West, February 8, 2001, Kristina Mannion, review of Lonely Planet, p. 18; March 14, 2002, Dany Margolies, review of Trust, p. 18.
Chicago Sun-Times, August 18, 2004, Christopher Piatt, review of Foolin' around with Infinity, p. 76.
Commonweal, January 15, 1993, Gerald Weales, review of Halcyon Days, p. 20; November 20, 1998, Celia Wren, review of Silence, p. 20.
Daily Variety, March 21, 2002, Julio Martinez, review of Trust, p. 10.
Denver Post, March 7, 2003, John Moore, "Stage writing has taken Dietz around world," p. F1; April 7, 2004, review of Inventing Van Gogh, p. F1.
Nation, April 6, 1992, Hal Gelb, review of God's Country, p. 462.
New Leader, July-August, 2004, Stefan Kanfer, review of Fiction, "On Stage," p. 45.
Variety, April 26, 1999, Chris Jones, review of Force of Nature, p. 58; April 14, 2003, Robert L. Daniels, review of Fiction, p. 30; December 8, 2003, Lynn Jacobson, review of Over the Moon, p. 65.
TheatreScene.net,http://www.theatrescene.net/ (March 22, 2003), Simon Saltzman, interview with Dietz.*