Playwrights Perspective: Unknown Soldier
By Daniel Goldstein
December 18, 2019
Portrait of Daniel Goldstein by Zack DeZon
The idea of writing a Playwright’s Perspective in 2019 for Unknown Soldier is inherently flawed. Actually, well, impossible. I am half of the playwriting team for this musical. And the other half has been dead for two-plus years now, which also seems impossible. And yet that, no matter how much we’d all like to change history, is true.
When Michael Friedman and I set out to write Unknown Soldier, we were interested in figuring out how the past and the present merge, how objects trace through time, and how your history is more fluid than you think and your future less of a mystery than your past.
“The smallest, tiniest details of a rewrite that we made in that place next to that tree on that day in July are perfectly rendered movies in my brain, but large swaths of the writing process are forgotten – as though it were pre-destined to come out the way it did.”
We started with the true story of a French soldier who had lost his memory when he was found at the Lyon train station in France. And from there we sought to create a mystery. One where the audience gets to see clues that the characters in the play never get to see – or would have seen, if they had only just...
There are things I remember about writing the musical and things I don’t. What remains as memory or is lost to time makes no actual sense. The smallest, tiniest details of a rewrite that we made in that place next to that tree on that day in July are perfectly rendered movies in my brain, but large swaths of the writing process are forgotten – as though it were pre-destined to come out the way it did.
But the melodies remain. Every single one.
And now that Michael is gone, this play itself becomes an object in time, a place where we can look for him, in his humanity, his frailty, and his incredible intelligence.
But what we come back to (and what will always be the most important thing to all of us who knew him personally and those who only knew his work) is the story. For as glorious a composer as Michael was, the only thing that ever mattered for him was the story — the often-brutal sometimes-tender evocation of our collective humanity. And I guess, for now, that has to be enough.