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Pulitzer Prize Winner Martyna Majok Writes to See Characters Like Herself and Her Family
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Thursday, October 27, 2022
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Martyna Majok started penning her Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Cost of Living” on a snowy January night after losing her bartending job while recovering from bedbugs.

“I thought: What are these people trying to say to me about what I’m going through in my life right now,” she told an audience at Ketchum’s Community Library Thursday night.

As the play took shape, Majok drew upon her experiences as a cocktail waitress and caretaker for a man with cerebral palsy to create a play examining the relationships between disabled and able persons. It won the 2018 Pulitizer Prize for Drama and last month debuted on Broadway.

Majok read the opening monologue during her appearance at the library, cracking up the audience with her animated performance and New Jersey accent as she reprised the thoughts of Eddie Torres, a long-haul truck driver whose ex-wife had been paralyzed in an accident.

She has learned she has to make viewers laugh within the first 30 seconds of a play to give them permission to laugh with—not at—the characters, she said.

Majok was in the midst of a grey day when she learned the play had won the Pulitzer Prize. She had left her apartment at 7 to trudge through a blustery April rainstorm to jury duty. And then, when she wasn’t chosen, she returned home to do her taxes.

“I got a phone call from my agent yelling at me that I’d won the Pulitzer, and I was so mad at him because I thought he was kidding,” she said. He said, ‘Give it five minutes and you’ll find out you won.’ ”

Over the next couple moments, she received 20 texts and a video confirming that, yes, indeed she had won.

“I’d like to adapt the play into a film to make it more accessible, or to film the play for people in Idaho to see,” she said.

Majok has been spending a month at the Hemingway House in Ketchum with the Sun Valley Playwright’s Residency. She has been working on a new play in between visits from two cats. And her play “Ironbound” will headline a free play reading at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, at The Argyros Center for Performing Arts under the direction of Samuel D. Hunter. Complimentary champagne will be served after the reading.

Majok, who immigrated with her mother from Poland, said she became fascinated by the art of storytelling as a latchkey kid who watched a lot of TV sitcoms. While in high school, she began writing scripts for a literacy program for immigrants and their children. And, rather than write humdrum passages about Jack ordering a sandwich at the deli, she began penning tales of bank heists.

As someone who suffered abuse, she said, “I’m always asking: Why do people do these acts of cruelty? I’d collect events in my life and try to go backwards—I found it so difficult, so moving and so important.”

“Ironbound,” which she wrote in five days, is based on some of her mother’s experiences as it tells the story of a woman’s realization that she can find dignity or survival in a relationship but never both at the same time.

“It’s 23 years of her life that I’m trying to cram in 90 minutes,” she said. “I’ve learned that, if you keep the number of characters in your play to four or fewer and if you keep your plays at 90 minutes or less,  they’re more likely to get produced. I just want to take away any barriers to producing my plays.”

Majok said spending a residency in Sun Valley reminds her that there are many ways to live a life—not just the New York way.

“Leaving home is a process of reencountering yourself,” she said. “The quiet here lets things settle… It gives me a chance to spend time with myself, which is difficult when I’m back home.”

Majok said she has learned that people want to discover “the next great voice.”

“My writing is about trying to make sense of the people I grew up with. It makes me feel less alone to see versions of me and my family,” she added. “I really hope that when I spend two hours in a theater that something happens to me to bring me closer to humanity than when I walked in.”

That said, she confided that she hates writing but she does it because it gets her into the rehearsal room where she thrills to everything, especially the moment actors put on costumes for the first time.

“I have to mine my demons, excavate them, look at them because it’s the only way to get into rehearsal!”

 IF YOU GO…

“Ironbound” is free but you can reserve tickets at https://theargyros.org.

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