Playwright David Jenkins on His New Play Post Office
Playwright David Jenkins, whose first play for the theater company Human Animals Presents, Middlemen, was solidly received in 2009, comes back with a three-character piece, Post Office, directed by Josie Whittlesey. Set in the small fictional town of Little Neck, Illinois, the action follows a 19-year-old mail carrier (played by David Gelles) as he adjusts to his new job. He is mentored by an aging mail carrier (Eric Hoffman), and he also finds time to start an affair with a disillusioned housewife (Anney Ciobbe). I enjoyed speaking with the young playwright, who is well-spoken and quite aware of what he is trying to do.
Hi David. I became intrigued by your play because I'm a big fan of the U.S. Post Office. I like the people who work there, I've used it successfully for years, and I respect what they accomplish.
I like the Post Office, too. I was a part-time carrier when I was in college. When you talk about the Post Office, it's easy to bring in a story that's negative, but it's really an amazing organization. Across the country, something is sent to everyone's house every day; it's incredible. I think it's important, in talking about the play, to know it's not a smash-in-the-face for the Post Office, because it does so much right. But I'm not an apologist for the Post Office either; it's too big. It's the second largest employer in the U.S., next to Walmart. So you can't get rid of it, it employs that many people. It's a stand-in for a lot of the things that are happening in the country now. It's on the precipice. It's this thing that we all count on; it's ridiculed, but we do have a bit of affection for it too.
So tell me about the play within your Post Office setting.
Basically what you've got is a 'coming of age' story: a 19-year-old mail carrier, a 65-year-old co-worker who is taking him under his wing, and a 45-year-old disillusioned housewife, and all three are trying to figure out what you can aspire to now.
Do you mean, in terms of being in the USA today?
It's a small town in Illinois, and what's the dream? Now that it's shifted, what is it? It's three characters, at different stages in their lives, and they're all trying to help each other move on to the next stage in their life.
Can you tell me some more, without spoiling any surprises?
There's an older male mail carrier, injured on his route; his body is failing him. He lives for the Post Office. He's taken the young guy under his wing. The kid is reluctant because he doesn't see a future in the Post Office, but he likes being mentored by someone. Then, while he's out on his route, he starts up an affair with this mysterious, disillusioned housewife. She's someone who's probably upper middle class and stranded in her life. So I think the play ends up with the battle between the 65-year-old mailman, who has very concrete ideas about taking a job and settling in, and the housewife, who tried to do everything right and it exploded on her. They both kind of give the kid what he needs.
Is there some kind of resolution?
You'll see this play and you'll bring your idea of the Post Office to it, so I don't have to work too hard to show you the bad side. It could be three people headed towards futility. Everything's fucked, and we're headed to no future in this country. But, I think it's about what do we take out of this time, the decline. And I try to focus on this. This is not a free-fall. What can you take out of the ground shifting under your feet, and how does this change how we're all responsible to each other.
Is it in one act?
It's spare, one hour and 15 minutes. No intermission. I don't like the term "one act." If I can get a bite, and feel full at the end, that's a play. Audiences are really smart, so you're not going to impress them with story tricks. The audience knows. If you put in the bones of a story, real human characters, and real emotions and problems, they'll go with it. I'd rather see 55 minutes of that than 3 hours of pure naturalism.
The New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher St., 212-868-4444, smarttix.com, previews Dec. 1, opens Dec. 6 - 17, Thurs. - Tues. (No Wed. performance) 8 p.m., $18.