When Nicky Silver’s agent called and told him about an opportunity to work on an unproduced, unpublished Kurt Vonnegut script, he leapt at the chance—but not for the reasons you might imagine. “I read Slaughterhouse Five when I was in college, but I didn’t know anything really about Kurt Vonnegut,” the playwright admits. “I really went because a friend of mine adores Kurt Vonnegut. I thought, well, I’ll go and see if I can get my hands on this script that they’re talking about and I’ll make a copy and give it to my friend, because he’ll be so excited.”
Yet despite his worst intentions, Silver found himself deeply intrigued by the project, and he quickly signed on. “They gave me one draft and I said, ‘Well this is very interesting, let me see what else you have,’” Silver says. The next day, a giant box arrived on his doorstep filled with Vonnegut’s drafts.
Vonnegut wrote Make Up Your Mind in 1993, but shelved the play and its 11 variations following a brief staging. The author died in 2007, and the play sat untouched until Vonnegut’s literary executor Donald Farber decided to unearth it. Silver was tasked with assembling the variations into one whole.
Although Silver has experience with rewriting scripts, he found Vonnegut’s writing process to be distinctly different from his own. “I write a draft, maybe two,” he says. “If I’m not happy with it, I never return to it, and if I’m happy with it, I’m done.”
Even so, the more he read, the more he identified with Vonnegut. “I spent about 15 years trying to be a writer before I earned one red cent,” Silver says. “His struggle was different, but it was easy to identify with him as a person, having struggled a fair amount before he achieved success. I think all writers, if you manage to hang in there long enough, go through that and go through periods that are difficult and periods that are easy.”
The rewriting itself came fairly naturally to Silver, who’s done movie script rewrites for studios in the past. “You enter their world as opposed to turning it completely into your world,” he says of working on other people’s scripts. “You spend enough time with it so that you hear the original writer’s voice a little bit in your head. It felt like that.”
Silver returns to original playwriting with Too Much Sun, set to premiere at the Vineyard Theatre next summer. “It’s about an actress of a certain age who suffers what amounts to a nervous breakdown and descends upon her daughter and her daughter’s husband at their summer house,” Silver explains. “As the summer progresses, they become more and more demented, thus the title Too Much Sun. It’s really about the casual wounds that are inflicted by neurotic artists who think they have the right because they’re artists. They’re oblivious to the destruction that they leave in their wake.”
It will be Silver’s 10th or 11th production at the off-Broadway venue, and he says he has no plans to stop staging shows there. “Really, they’re my family,” he says. “My very first play that was a success was Pterodactyls and it was at the Vineyard. The next play that I did was Raised in Captivity and a lot of theaters wanted it at the time... I felt strongly that since the Vineyard was the only place that rolled the dice with me the first time, I should stay there. I didn’t have a crystal ball but it turned out to be the smartest thing I ever did because it has provided me with a theatrical home 20 years later.”
The longtime New York City resident spent time in Boston during rehearsals for Make Up Your Mind, and he will return for the show’s world premiere at SpeakEasy. “I loved Boston and I loved the actors and the theater,” Silver says. “It’s so civilized; I curse more than any five local residents put together. Seriously, it’s like, my God, I never saw such civilized people. The cars stop for you to cross the street; in New York it’s like a sport, let’s see how many we can mow down.”