Interview with Tom Ziegler, Grace &Glorie playwright

Published 3:32 pm Monday, April 26, 2010

Tom Ziegler is the playwright who wrote Grace and Glorie, the Tryon Little Theater production to play April 29 through May 9. He is also the brother of Mary Ziegler Davis, whose husband is the Senior Pastor of the Tryon Presbyterian Church.

Rarely does a theatrical company get to interview the person who created the characters and story they are working so hard to bring to life onstage. So when Mary Ziegler gave me her brothers email address, I had the distinct pleasure of asking him questions about this script we have come to love.

Grace (played by me) is a 90 year old uneducated mountain woman, and Gloria (played by Marianne Carruth), a Type-A New Yorker with an MBA from Harvard. What do they have in common? Not much, it seems at firstuntil they find the common thread of humanity.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Q. Were the characters Grace and/or Glorie based on individuals you have known in your life?

A. Im a big city boy. Grew up in Chicago. My wife is a country girl. We met in Virginia at a time when she was living in an old southern house that was heated with wood and actually had a wood cook stove in the kitchen. She had chickens that would show up on the back porch, her water came from a spring, etc. All of this country charm fascinated me no end. So if the characters in the play are drawn from anyone, I would say Grace comes from my wife, Shirley, and Gloria from her big city husband.

Q. Was it difficult as a man to get into the sensitivities of women to write these strong characters in a way that is so true to how women think, act, and feel?

A. Actors who have played these two characters always ask me that. All I can say is that Im a writer. I write men, women, old, young. It doesnt matter. Over the years Ive learned to be a terrific listener. I listen to people talk and try to recreate that style and subject matter in my characters. I will say that women are more fun to write, for most of their emotions are closer to the surface and less guarded. And of course the bread and butter of playwriting is emotion.

Q. As you have watched productions of G&G, have you discovered things about the play itself or either of its characters that you hadnt realized were there?

A. This happens all the time. You can appreciate that when I write a play the characters and setting are all in my head. One day a director and a group of actors assemble and bring life to these phantoms of mine. Actors consistently find moments in the play that I had never envisioned. Im usually delighted when I see this. Not always, but usually.

My final question to Mr. Ziegler came from a memory from nine years ago when I directed A Shayna Maidel for the Hendersonville Little Theatre. Its playwright, Barbara Lebow, lives in Atlanta, and we had a long (and for me thrilling) telephone conversation one afternoon while that production was in rehearsal. I asked Ms. Lebow if she had a favorite moment in A Shayna Maidel, wondering if the moment that touched her most deeply would be the same as that which touched me the most. Turns out it was.

I told told Mr. Ziegler which moment brings me to tears every time as Grace I play a certain scene. And again, the playwrights moment and mine are the same.

Q. Do you have a favorite moment in Grace & Glorie?

A. Yes, the Luanne speech is my favorite. I remember the day I wrote it. I had come to know Grace so intimately by that stage in the script, that I sat down and wrote that speech exactly as you have it today. I am still amazed by Graces incredible strength of character.

Grace & Glorie will play the Tryon Little Theater Workshop, 516 South Trade Street, April 29 through May 9, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. The Workshop box office is manned 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and telephone reservations may be left at any time at 828-859-2466.