Listen: The ‘Dumb Joke’ Hidden in ‘White Noise’

Suzan-Lori Parks’ new play “White Noise” tackles a host of urgent, hot-button topics, including racism and slavery — but, according to the playwright, there’s also a “dumb joke” buried in it.

Listen to this week’s podcast below:

Appearing with “White Noise” director Oskar Eustis on “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast, Parks revealed that the inspiration for names she chose for her four characters — Leo, Dawn, Misha and Ralph — came from a very unlikely source. “Anybody know the Ninja Turtles?” she asked.

She was referring to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the cartoon quartet named Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael. She based the names of her own characters on them. “It’s like a dumb joke,” she said. “It makes you laugh. I realized, ‘Oh s—, that’s what I do when I write.’ I tell myself a dumb joke, and once I tell myself a dumb joke, then the floor drops out and I descend rapidly into a very deep, dark and frightening and difficult place.”

The play left its dumb-joke roots far behind to tackle some of the toughest issues facing society today. “It’s written for an audience that feels that it’s woke,” noted Eustis, who directed the play’s world premiere, now playing at Off Broadway’s Public Theater. “It feels like on some level we get the history of racism of this country and we get the problem of black-white relationships and we’ve struggled with it and we see it clearly. And the play goes, ‘Oh you think you see it clearly? No you don’t. It’s way deeper than you think.’ It shakes you up. It shakes me up.”

Also on the new episode of “Stagecraft,” the playwright and the director discuss the secrets behind the writing process, the hard work of loving all your characters equally — and reveal who in the cast is the best bowler.

New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.