Thanks to Frank Bertrand for contibuting this article to philipKdick.com. Read some of his own essays at Frank Views.

Interview with
Linda Hartinian & Frier McCollister
Part #2

Transcribed and edited by
Frank C. Bertrand

Note: Linda Hartinian is the author of the the stage play Flow My Tears the Policeman Said based on the Philip K. Dick story. The play was first put on in New York by Mabou Mines in 1988. Linda was also a close friend of PKD. This interview was transcribed by Frank Bertrand from a 1999 radio interview with Linda and producer Frier McCollister. Click here to read Part #1.

[source: Cartoon Pleroma, KUCI, 88.9 FM, Irvine, California, May 3, 1999]

Robert Larson: Okay, well, welcome back. We were talking about just all the challenges involved there with putting this together, and how it came off pretty nicely. And I also wanted to ask, Frier, did any of the actors, or other people involved, have a special draw or intense passion for Dick's work, or did any of them after being involved in this play become interested in Phil's ideas?
FM: Well, honestly I think all of them have become increasingly fascinated with him and his work in working on this play. And for the most part I think I probably had sort of the most comprehensive familiarity with his writing. Bart DeLorenzo, the director, who's done also a wonderful job with this, perhaps a bit more so too, but had, I think, had read a couple other of his novels. Again, typically, those actors who were familiar with the work were familiar largely through the film adaptations of Blade Runner and Total Recall. And that was probably the extent of their familiarity with Dick and his writing by and large. But, again, in doing the play everyone, most of the actors did in preparing for this show, did read the novel. And that I think has sparked some very real interest in his writing in most of them.
RL: Have any weird synchronicities occurred in connection with the play?
FM: Oh, ya know, that's hard to say. It seems like weird synchronicities happen all the time when you sit down and think about it. But directly related to the play, it's a little hard to say, nothing that stands out, although it is interesting when you and I were speaking the other day and talking about the various other adaptations that are going on, or that have occurred, and there really haven't been all that many thus far, although there seems to be gathering momentum and interest in screen, specifically screen adaptations of Dick's work. You had discussed, or we were talking about, the adaptation, the operatic adaptation of VALIS. And I noticed on the Web today actually that Tod Machover, who adapted VALIS into an opera form, an operatic form, just premiered his latest opera at the Houston Grand Opera today, I believe, or it was reviewed today on Fresh Air, NPR Radio. And in the review they did make mention of VALIS in the piece on Fresh Air, if anyone is interested in checking that out they can access it by the Web I'm sure. That's not a piece that I have a lot of familiarity with. Linda may know a little bit more about it than I do, I'm not sure.
RL: Do you Linda?
LH: Yeah, I do. I worked on that piece with Tod for a short while, and so did Bill work on it. But I had so many artistic differences that I had to leave.
RL: Oh, that's too bad.
LH: Yeah, it was too bad. But Tod was very firm about the way he wanted things and I was very firm about the way I wanted things. And the biggest problem between us was about the word "God". And Tod was very adamant that he didn't want to discuss God, or have the word God in the libretto...
RL: That's strange...
LH: And I was very firm that it had to be mentioned at least once. So that's what caused us to split over it. But I know that people liked the music very much and I didn't see it. It was done in Paris and I think it was done several other places too, but I never saw it. But I know he did remove God and he wasn't interested in that aspect of it.
RL: Sort of theophobia there?
LH: Well, actually, I asked him that during our working, and we had another partner, Catherine Ikam, who was the person who actually, to be honest, was the one who thought up the project. And she's a French woman, a very well respected video artist who was fascinated with Phil's work. She was the one who hired Tod and, ya know, Tod sort of took it over from all three of us and went on with it in his own way. And she was interested in that aspect of it. I mean she wasn't a closed off person when it came to religious concepts. But I just couldn't, I was unable to conceive of VALIS without the word God.
RL: It's a little difficult for me too. God is sort of a major component of a lot of Phil's stories...
LH: Right...
RL: Or at least a few.
LH: And also Tod continually, I mean I don't know what he came around to after I left, but we put in weeks and weeks, separated by a few months, and then some more weeks of constant every day ten hour sessions. So it wasn't just a few lose conversations. But he said that he thought that the book was about Phil's personality breaking up and that it was about Phil's being a psychotic. And since he didn't know Phil, and I did, I just had to say I didn't think that Phil was a psychotic, not as I'd known psychotics. And I have known psychotics.
RL: Does that really bother you when people put that label on him?
LH: It absolutely infuriates me to have to listen to that, because I know it's not true. And Phil was not always an easy person, but then who is an easy person? I think that you could certainly say he was neurotic sometimes, or compulsive sometimes, but he was never crazy. He was just interesting, just a person who had a very wide, wide mind, a very large way of thinking. And that's certainly not what a psychotic is. I know, because I've studied them, and I've seen them in action every day on the street here in New York City. So I, I just, I don't know why Tod felt that way, but that he came from a different background than I did. And also I think because he didn't know him. So he'd read this book and he made this decision and he was very much, at least at that time, an atheist. I said I'm not asking you to believe in God, I'm asking you to understand that the word God appears about twelve million times in his book. And that I don't think it's ethical to do this.
RL: Well, I think there are many people out there that have this sort of fear of religion, but I think what is so, one of the things that's so wonderful about Phil's work is that it's about religion, but it's presenting this whole different take...
LH: Exactly...
RL: On religion, and it's just like, it needs to be about religion. Here's a different view of religion, this is much more expansive...
LH: It's a discussion of religion. It's not a religion. I mean even if you just look at that one book, it's about a lot of religions all at once. But you can't, you can't just be, well, Tod was also very upset because Bob Dylan had done his born again Christian album and he felt betrayed. And so its music and in a funny way, Tod, it's none of your business. If you don't like the music, okay, but you can't get hysterical because someone said the word God. I mean they're not trying to hurt you or to upset you on purpose. But you can see that it just cranks me up all over again...
RL: Well...
LH: I know you can't put everything, you can't take everything that Phil put in a book, because he put so much. There's never been anyone, I think, who wrote about so many things at once. It's so hard to sort it out when you try to do an adaptation. If you look at things like Blade Runner, or you look at something like Total Recall, you can take just the tinniest fragment of one of his works and that's enough for a major motion picture.
RL: Oh, yeah...
LH: So you can't put everything in. But I thought with VALIS that that was important. And also because we had so many conversations about so many aspects of so many religions that I felt that it was a disservice to the person, to my friend, to not say. I had it down, I had the libretto down to one mention of God. I don't even remember the line that said the word God. And when he just sat around and looked around and he put the pencil through that and said I think we have to remove this, we have to cut this line, I said I think you have to cut me...
RL: You've gone too far...
LH: I have to leave the room and I have to leave this piece.
RL: Yeah, it's a, I mean, I think many of us have...
LH: Like a knee-jerk reaction...
RL: Well, I think we have a righteous, maybe, aversion to organized religion, zealotry, religious zealotry...
LH: Right...
RL: But at the same time you don't have to go to the other extreme and say that we are going to exorcise this from reality...
LH: Yeah, the very word, it reminds me of that, the work that Lenny Bruce did about that other word, the N word. And you can't just disappear an idea by removing the word...
FM: Uh huh...
LH: It's just not possible.
RL: Go ahead Frier.
FM: This raises, I'm curious to I guess point out, to ask Linda, and point out the fact that there is in your adaptation of Flow My Tears appended at the end of the piece what is known as the Tagore Letter...
LH: Right...
FM: Which, I must admit, we had have excised from our production, which was something that I frankly protested, but was overruled on. It is not something that appears in the text of the novel, but does in fact address Dick's preoccupations with his religious and mystic concerns specifically. Linda can give a far better background to it than I can. But it came up again and it was a similar type of argument that occurred within the company about how to deal with this particular piece of material. And again it involved people's relative discomfort with dealing with religious issues and the concept of God. And not being able to really reconcile this idea that Philip K. Dick was, may well have been functioning as something of a religious mystic, first and foremost, particularly in his later writings.
   But it does, this whole discussion, definitely brings up for me one of the struggles that occurred with us in pre-production in terms of how to present this particular adaptation of this piece. And the fact that in the public forums, entertainment, like movies and theater, where you're presenting something to a public audience essentially, the people become very skittish over things that are potentially controversial. I also think that there is a certain innate bias within academic intellectual circles against bringing in these types of ideas. And it's something that we dealt with. But Linda could explain I think a little bit better than I can what the Tagore Letter was and why she included it in her adaptation.
RL: Yeah, what is that, Linda?
LH: Well, just before Phil died, a few days before he died, he sent out a letter to a short list of friends, and it's commonly referred to as the Tagore Letter. And everyone got the same letter. So he sent me a cover letter asking me how I was and the rest of it, and then sent this letter that he said he was sending around to everyone who was important to him, and important in general. And I felt that because this was a memorial to him, and because I was writing it for him, and because I was grieving for him, and because the novel as I see it is about grief and about dealing with grief, that that was my way of grieving. We had a lot of difficulty and discussion with it also. And I think that when people saw our version of the play, that they understood the letter and that they thought it was beautiful. In sort of a strange Philip K. Dick event, there would be this person, sitting in this little chair. When we first did it, I read the letter to me first and then I read the letter in general. And it's edited somewhat. And he asks me about my son. In the first version that we did my son was still small and he sat on my lap. And I read the letter out loud to him, this letter from Phil, asking about him. And I had told him about Phil and he knew about Phil, but he had never met him. Then I went on to read this special letter, this mystical letter, this last letter that he wrote, this last public statement that he made. And I think people enjoyed it, and they understood it, either from the standpoint of artistic revelation, or the people who came in who were involved in philosophy. Or people who were very literate, from the professors of English who commented that it was so wonderful the way that you did this, and that you included this. So it wasn't just the religious nuts that could understand it, but people who were...
RL: Maybe struggling with what is reality...
LH: Or people who knew a lot about philosophy, who knew what he was talking about.
RL: Yeah, the whole...
LH: Yeah, the whole thing. It was a very complex letter. And it covered a lot of ground. It once again said God a couple of times. It wasn't about being a born again Christian or anything like that. It was so much more complex than that, that they could understand it. But when you dramatize something and you put it out into the world, what I have here in this little booklet is an artifact. And there's a great many things that we did that another company either wouldn't understand how to do, or wouldn't have the people who knew how to do it, or who wanted to do it, or time has past, the generation, 1988 is different from 1999, so these things don't resonate the same way. There's a lot of reasons why you wouldn't want to put it, and most of the people who do it can't manage the letter...
RL: Yeah...
LH: They just can't do it, because it's not just the God stuff, it's the how do you tag on this letter. It's like out of nowhere...
FM: Right...
LH: It's like the way that the play is it's got five endings.
RL: And isn't there a weird thing too of, when Phil wrote this book, he wrote it in, what year was it?
LH: I don't remember what year, what year...
FM: He wrote the book in 70, it was published in 74...
RL: Okay, but it was about, the story takes place in what was then the future...
LH: Right...
RL: Which was, what was the date, it was the 80s?...
FM: 88...
LH: 88...
RL: Which is now, for us, the past. And so, actually, that's kind of like a Phil Dick story. You're trying to write, adapt a futuristic story that's about a future that is now actually the past. It seemed to me that with a weird sort of mish mash of styles, clothing and otherwise, in the play that I just saw, Frier, I was wondering was that a thing that you were striving for?
LH: Yeah, I can't wait to find out how you handled that. It was hard enough back in 88...
RL: Is that a thing you were striving for, like okay, we want it to look kind of like the future, but kind of like the past?
FM: Well, yeah. I mean in a way I guess I've been calling it sort of a retro-futurism. To some degree, I think, I guess it's probably depicted most clearly in this production in the costumes that Ann Closs-Farly came up with. It's sort of a depiction of a what someone in the '70s may have projected to be 1988, essentially. And I think she's done a really really interesting job, specifically in the costumes, and how she managed to do that. That's, again, probably the most obvious thing, although there are elements in the scenic design and some of the props we use, as well, that are sort of similarly conceived, in this sort of retro-futuristic style. But in point of fact, the play and the reality of the play is an alternate reality essentially...
RL: Right, I mean it comes off as, to me, confusing and well, it should be. That is how Phil Dick stories are. Do you agree with that?
FM: Oh yeah, definitely...
LH: Absolutely...
FM: And I mean I think we do a pretty good job of keeping the audience guessing through most of the evening. Thankfully, most everybody stays with us, although there are a few who walk out of the theater deeply disturbed. But everybody for the most part seems to have a pretty good time with it.
RL: Yeah, there are times when you're kind of scratching your head, well, what exactly happened. That's it, that's the vision, I think, of what we get from Phil, is that we just go through life so often with all these assumptions and never like stop, or maybe are forced to, go wait a minute, things are not exactly as I thought they were...
FM: Well, exactly. And I must say that having to present a novel like this, within a dramatic format, within a span of roughly two hours, is a supreme challenge at best. And I think Linda's done a brilliant job in adapting the novel. As she has indicated, Philip K. Dick did have an extraordinarily broad mind, and the concepts that he juggles in any one novel are pretty extraordinary, and to be able to attempt to boil down the essence of some of these ideas within the span of specific dramatic scenes, is really difficult. And I think Linda has done an amazing job with the adaptation. I can only hope that we come close to doing it justice in our production. But there is an awful lot to digest...
LH: There's an awful lot. And I'm so grateful that people want to try to do it. I think it's so wonderful that people would do that. And the thing that I didn't mention that I don't think Frier mentioned it either is that Phil gave me years ago he gave me a manuscript. I have the manuscript of Flow My Tears...
FM: Is that right?
LH: And he gave it to me as one of those gifts, when he wanted to give me a present and he didn't have anything, so he just handed me these typewritten pages. And so years later when I was looking for what to adapt, that's what made us choose that book, was because he gave it to me as a gift. He said I don't have anything to give you, I want to give you a present, so, oh I have this, I'll give you this. And then also because it does deal with grief and love. When we got all the paperbacks, and we were reading the paperbacks, then for some reason I was reading the typewritten pages. And I found that the work that he gave me included about ten, I can't remember the exact amount, about ten or twelve pages that were cut from the book as it was published. And those extra pages, in the Ruth Rae scene, it's just long ten pages on different kinds of love, and all the different kinds of love that humans are capable of. I guess that his publishers didn't think that that was, that that should be in the finished book. That it was too long and it was too strange to be in there. One of the...
RL: Linda, we're just about out of time, if you could wrap it up real quick...
LH: And he said that one of the ways that the kinds of love is about is loving an author. And he says, I think that's the coolest thing that could happen to the author of a book. To live on after his death in the book and somewhere, say, somewhere be loved by someone who read the book. Of course it would have to be a very super far out book, I don't mean just any book. Counter-Clock World was not that kind of book. And that's from one of these lost pages, and that's what I think of when I think of Phil, that he's living again. Every time we do this he lives again, some place, in some little town or some big town, like LA.
RL: That's a nice thought to kind of wrap this up. Ah, Frier, real quick, could you give out the information on how people can go see the play.
FM: Absolutely, to reserve tickets to see Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said at the Ivy Sub Station in Culver City, please call XXX-535-4996, XXX-535-4996, and we will be running through May 16th only, so please call now.
RL: That's at the historic Ivy Sub Station?
FM: In Culver City, exactly, 9070 Venice Boulevard.
RL: Frier McCollister, thanks a lot for being with us this evening.
FM: Thank you so much. I wish we had an another hour.
RL: I do too. And Linda Hartinian, thank you.
LH: Oh, absolutely, thank you so much.
RL: Okay, no problem. We'll be talking to you again some time, okay?
LH: Okay.
RL: Alright, that just about wraps up Cartoon Pleroma. This is Robert Larson. You're listening to KUCI, 88.9 FM in Irvine. Don't forget to catch me next week. I'm going to have Philip Farber, he is a master occultist. This is serious stuff, but funny stuff at the same time, so you'll want to be tuning in for that.