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Director pushes political satire to the edge

Pulitzer-nominated Tesoriere explores theater, politics and fast food

By Leigh E. Rich

While many of you piled on the sofa with your cohorts last Thursday night to engage in an evening of “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” I spoke with award-winning playwright and director Ken Tesoriere in a McDonald’s on the north side—a most unlikely place which he and his idealism would never frequent—for a good four and a half hours. I won’t call it an interview, for I asked him no questions. He has enough of his own. And with his upcoming production of Mac Wellman’s “7 Blowjobs” at the a.k.a. Theater and his recent 1996 Pulitzer nomination for his own “Brothers in Arms,” Tesoriere has plenty to talk about.

Tesoriere never studied theater in an academic institution, nor is he big on conformity. His three decade affliction of wanderlust has carried him from coast to coast and back again, to Berlin and Prague and several spots along the way, and eventually to the lush deserts of Arizona and the Southwest.

Originally from New York, he doesn’t seem to call anywhere home and claims to have followed a “myopic living.”

“I’d rather be trying stuff than play it safe,” Tesoriere says. And this is not merely talk. Besides a long career as a self-taught free-lance writer and general survivalist, he was a professional race car driver while still in high school, an amazingly apt metaphor for his unhewn life thus far.

He claims that driving is all about sitting in a car, strapping yourself in, and producing an effect. “There’s an appeal to that… but there is also a clarity because you take everything that impedes us as a human spirit and put it aside.”

It is this willy-nilly, yet focused approach to life, this appreciation and dismissal of human constraints, which feeds Tesoriere’s art. And while his passion for driving fizzled in a downward spiral—“I just got tired of driving one day and I got out”—his energy and ardor for the theater have escalated.

“‘7 Blowjobs’ is very directly angled at the times,” Tesoriere states. Just in time to coincide with all the backstabbing political advertisements and the Republican Primary, Wellman’s play is a political satire which explores the values and American standards (or lack there of) of those holding offices in government.

Tesoriere’s attraction to “7 Blowjobs,” he says, is “partly the exploration of such a different type of script. I can push the show around more because the actors are very experienced. I can take what [Wellman] has done and push it further and further out on the edge.”

It is on this edge that Tesoriere thrives. After leaving driving and discovering his fervor for writing, he found an inherent duality in theater—one both “incredibly intriguing and incredibly frightening”—which might explain Tesoriere’s almost preternatural connection with it. He abandoned his intensely realistic life-style for the realm of the make-believe, “a world where everything is fake and most people are phonies,” he recalls.

Congruent with a personality forged by near-death experiences (after escaping car crashes, he was shot in both legs during the war), Tesoriere still relies on his ingenuity as a director and a writer. “You depend on the seat of your pants—it’s called instinct.” And although he takes risks as he strays from world to world, he remains grounded. “Structure, as a writer, is how you live and breathe dramatically.”

Structure, however, seems absent from Tesoriere’s life. The result from bouncing from one geography to the next, he says, “I’m always the perpetual stranger… but I know how to knock on doors.” Whether he’ll finally take root is a tentative matter.

“As far as Tucson, it won’t hold me. I want it to, but it doesn’t want to,” Tesoriere sadly states. He is drawn by the desert’s “spiritual beauty” but is driven back by Tucson’s “apparent lack of self-esteem.”

One thing is certain: Tesoriere knows that he doesn’t want to do “ego theater” but instead “explore storytelling, explore what it’s like to live… You pick things up if you’re awake.”

Life, for Ken Tesoriere, is not a spectator sport. While race car driving holds no appeal for him anymore, writing and directing certainly do. “That was always one criteria: it would have to interest me.” And he finds plenty to keep that interest piqued. “It’s a visual and performance process. It’s never finished at a desk. It’s never finished. I can’t finish my works until I go into the rehearsal process.”

While others may disagree with him, Tesoriere modestly states, “I don’t have any other skills but writing … It has to be fate. It was just meant to be.”

Rich, L.E. (1996, February 23). Director pushes political satire to the edge. Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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