Playwright Dipika Guha on “Mechanics of Love,” and the Relationship Between Love and Logic

TDPS: How would you describe Mechanics of Love?

DG: It’s a bit like a carousel. [Laughs.] Four people with differing points of view find themselves on this love carousel, and they have to negotiate being on the ride and also being with each other on that ride. Today, that’s how I’m thinking about it!

TDPS: What inspired you to write this play?

DG: All of my plays come out of a confluence of interests and things that I was thinking about at the time.

With this particular play, I had just come out of a long-term collaboration with scientists who were engaged in the incredible difficult task of quantifying gender bias — something that is felt, but is so nebulous and hard to quantify.

So they were looking for ways to quantify it, and I was responding to their research and writing scenes that were hopefully doing more than illustrating what was happening — trying to get to the unspoken nature of what it is like to both experience and have bias, and how it is contained in the atmosphere. Like, there has been research on how, when you walk into a place like a lab, even interior design cues can lead women to feel that they don’t belong there. Or the lab coats don’t fit. All the small things.

So I had come out of that experience and was thinking about what happens when you try to quantify something that is unquantifiable. Where does it stretch our logic, where does logic fail, where does logic uplift? And I landed on the nature of love.

Using our primary sense of logic which seeks to add things up and draw a line between cause and effect, what happens when you try to make sense of love, something that seems to happen arbitrarily and is resistant to logic? That’s kind of the throughline of this play.

TDPS: Can you speak more about the relationship between logic and love?

DG: In the play, I’m exploring what happens when two types of logic butt heads: linear logic and intuitive logic.

It’s clearest with George, the mechanic, who has used one type of logic his whole life. When you put two pieces together, the result is always the same. So what happens when you throw a wrench in the mix, whether that’s a human being or a cat — something that does nothing predictable. What do you do? It’s at that point in the play that the carousel is spinning.
In the play, the act of love, the sudden giving way to someone or something, is unpredictable, yet seems to have it’s own internal logic that seems to have nothing to do with one’s environment and what’s occurring around them. So to have all these characters discover that moment was interesting for me to explore. What does it mean to be spinning on the carousel, and can you escape the carousel or rise above it? What kind of love transcends being on the carousel?

TDPS: Where were you when you wrote this play?

DG: I was in Alaska, teaching a class at Perserverance Theater on playwriting.

I was planning to have my students do this experiment where they picked out elements — such as a profession, an emotional state, and a place of origin — from a hat. I had never done the exercise before so I thought I would do it myself first, as a test to see if it worked. I usually have other people do it for each other; they all write these suggestions down and pass the papers around. But I did it for myself. The words were Ballerina, Russian and Silly, I think, and that was the start. I wrote the first 10 or 15 pages there.

I’ve used that exercise since then because it’s fun and it liberates people and makes them write about things they aren’t familiar with. What happens when you pull someone from a country you don’t know about? I’m very intrigued by the voices that emerge. And it takes some of the pressure off of you since you didn’t choose those elements.

TDPS: Congratulations on recently getting hired as a writer for the TV show “American Gods.” How have you found that writing for tv is different than writing for theater?

DG: Thank you! It’s been a whirlwind. I usually live 10 minutes away from Berkeley, and I had just three days to decide to take this job in LA! I’m just beginning to understand what the process here is. The mechanics of both processes are very different. In theater, it’s a lot of being on your own with a blank page, and it’s only your own instincts that guide you to a play. In TV, you are in a writers’ room and we are all involved in days, sometimes weeks, of brainstorming an episode. It’s kind of what I imagine a think tank is like. We’re all engaged in trying to make the best thing possible. The greatest difference is that in television, the collaboration seems to come at the beginning, and in theater, the collaboration comes at the end.

But the difficulty of raising something from the ground, the difficulty of dealing with the blank page is still somewhat the same. And the feeling of impossibility of that task! Finding and translating raw inspiration, and trusting that you can be loyal to that, and be faithful to the things you know are true — that process is just as difficult whether you are by yourself or in a room with 9 people.

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Dipika Guha was born in Calcutta and raised in India, Russia and the United Kingdom. She is a Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University for the year 2017-2018 and was the inaugural recipient of the Shakespeare’s Sister Playwriting Award with the Lark Play Development Center, A Room of Her Own and Hedgebrook. Most recently her work has been developed at Playwrights Horizons, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, Roundabout Underground, McCarter Theatre’s Sallie B. Goodman Residency, New Georges, Shotgun Players, the Sam French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival, Southern Rep, 24 Hour Plays on Broadway and the Magic Theatre amongst others. She was recently a visiting artist at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School, is a resident playwright at the Playwrights Foundation, San Francisco and a Core Writer at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis. MFA: Yale School of Drama under Paula Vogel. Dipika is currently writing on American Gods, the series adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel for Starz.