arcana imperii :: the book of j


private eyes...

“private eyes began as a lie, “ claims playwright steven dietz. “and, like a lie, the play grew.” ironically, at the heart of his play, dietz’s characters continually try to tell the truth. and in doing so, they learn the value of “the comforting little lie.”

secrecy and deception have been around forever. it’s in the paper and headlined on the news. it’s delicious to watch happen to someone else, but when it turns, it turns with a vengeance. “there is little that matches the mad rush of falling in love other than the mad rush of being betrayed,” says dietz. “it takes the same amount of energy, same amount of passion.”

the twin fevers of passion and suspicion feed each other, and fuel the comedy of private eyes. an actress, lisa, is having an affair with adrian, her british director. why? because she no longer loves her husband? no, for the fervour of it. for the heightened, frightened rush of “stolen moments, secret phone calls,” that, lisa admits, “we were aching for”. both she and her husband matthew sense the surprise missing from their lives. saying, “i think you’re gorgeous” in the morning just doesn’t do it anymore-so is the only surprise left to say “i’m having an affair”?

but danger’s delicious fevers have inescapable consequences. in private eyes, lisa buys into the myth of “telling the truth slowly over time,” as if spooning out a little truth in small doses like medicine won’t ever hurt anyone. she finds, however, that while waiting for the right time to tell the truth, the perfect time to hurt someone never comes. only when the masquerade’s over do she and matthew see that something quite simple lies at the heart of all the games. “we all desire,” states dietz. “but we fill our lives with the complexity to avoid the terrifying fact of simply having someone you want to be with.”

the idea for private eyes was born over seven years ago in a louisville hotel room, of all places, as dietz envisioned two lovers failing to speak the truth. “have you ever, when checking out of a hotel room, looked into those open rooms that have not yet been cleaned, seen the rumpled bed with the bedspread on the floor, and wondered what went on in there? i have,” dietz confesses. “i make up a little scene in my mind. an illicit, romantic adventure, perhaps? the thought is sexy...what went on behind those closed doors?”

in private eyes, dietz dives right into the heart of it. originally, the heart of it was just a title. “ i had the title of the usual suspect in my notebook, and was waiting for a play to put it to,” laughs dietz. he started the play in 1990, and it went on to receive a staged reading at the arizona theatre company in 1992. then christopher mcquarrie wrote a hit movie and put that title to it. though dietz had the title way before the movie, he “begrudgingly changed it.” the play, with its new name, was produced by the arizona theatre company for their final production of the 1996 season, where it was hailed by one reviewer as “the brightest and wittiest play we’ve seen in a long time.”

“actually,” dietz confesses, “changing the title made the play more personal. the play moved from being a fun bag of tricks to an examination of how those tricks affect individuals. it helped to put the heart on the line.”

private eyes forces the audience to put themselves on the line as well. as we witness the characters’ delicious deceptions, we are deceived just as quickly and easily. ultimately, we are the fundamental detectives, the real private eyes, who search for the clues to dietz’s comedy of surprise and misdirection.

liz engelman - literary manager/dramaturg - intiman theatre / used here without permission from the actors theatre of louisville.