Sean O’Leary is an award-winning playwright and author of Walt Whitman’s Secret, which opens at Presentation House Theatre next month.
1. What made you want to be a writer?
When former Boston Celtic, Robert Parrish, retired from the NBA, it meant there were no longer any active players older than I was at the time, which led me to suspect that my real lifelong dream might not be realized. So, I had to go to Plan B . . . well, really Plan Q, plan’s B through P having evaporated before I gave up on Plan A. In any case, I didn’t “want to be a writer.” I wrote my first play and continue to write in order to understand the characters about whom I write and the qualities of character they possess that I wish I possessed, but for which I lack the courage, genius, compassion, or any of a dozen other virtues you care to name.
2. How many plays have you written?
3. Do you write every day?
I think every day and write when it will help me think more effectively.
4. Which authors most inspire(d) you?
I swear I’m not trying to be difficult, but the truth is authors don’t inspire me; people do . . . and some of them write, but many do not. For instance, my first play was about a volunteer militiaman fighting against fascism in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. His name was Eric Blair and he inspired me because he recognized the dangers of fascism and also the possibility of a better more humane world and was so invested in his vision that he was willing to risk his life in battle in pursuit of it. As it turned out, Eric Blair did nearly die in Spain when he was shot in the throat. But, he didn’t and went on to become reasonably well known in later years under his pen name, George Orwell.
The point is that I wrote about Eric Blair because I wanted to try to comprehend his conviction and moral courage. That he also happened to be George Orwell was irrelevant apart from the fact that I only became aware of Blair’s story because of the memoir he published under his pen name.
5. Why a play about Walt Whitman?
Whitman exhibited two characteristics that fascinated me and, in adapting George Fetherling’s novel, I saw an opportunity to explore those characteristics. First, this poet who wrote so vividly and knowingly about love never in his life actually experienced a sustained loving relationship with a partner who engaged with him emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. Second, Whitman only ever wrote one major work — Leaves of Grass. However, he wrote it and continued revising it for more than forty years, 10 editions in all raising the question, is there different art for different ages and perspectives?