Suzanne Vega is playing tunes from an album she cowrote with Duncan Sheik. (Courtesy George Holz)

Suzanne Vega finds inspiration from Carson McCullers

There was a time when folk-rocker Suzanne Vega, fresh out of studying theater in college, was auditioning for film roles, like the lead in “Miami Blues” or “Desperately Seeking Susan.” But the parts always went to other actresses who, she admits in retrospect, were better suited for them. So she gave up on the process and pursued music. She recently decided to revisit those earnest thespian days by writing her own script, revolving around one of her literary idols, Southern Gothic novelist Carson McCullers. In a seated show in The City this week – she’s playing songs from its whimsical Duncan-Sheik-co-penned soundtrack, “Lover: Beloved–Songs From an Evening With Carson McCullers.”

When did you first get into McCullers?

When I was a 11 or so, through a short story I found called “Sucker.” Not one of her better-known works, but I loved it. I loved the title, and I loved the dynamics between the two main characters, which are two adolescent boys. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Did that lead to her books, like “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”?

Not right away. A few years later, I was in college, and I found a copy of her biography and I saw the photograph on the cover and thought, “Oh, that’s Carson McCullers.” I thought it was a man, but when I realized it was a woman, that intrigued me. Then I got an assignment from my teacher to come in dressed as someone in the arts who was no longer alive and be ready to field questions as though it was an interview. So I chose her, based on the photograph on that book.

She had a hard life. She began having strokes as a kid, and was half paralyzed by her early 30s.

Yeah. Exactly. But she had this spirit all the way through it. People think of her existence as dark, but if you look at it the opposite way, she lasted until she was 50 years old, and had this will to survive and to create. So I just have a lot of sympathy for her, her character, her wit and humor, and her ideals.

But “Lover: Beloved” is your second version of the play, right?

The first, “Carson McCullers Talks About Love,” was a 2011 production, and it ended up being a little more experimental than I was happy with. So I’ve torn that one up, and the 10 songs from this album are a preview of the play that’s coming out next year, “Lover: Beloved–An Evening With Carson McCullers.” It’s much more of a classic one-woman show, with songs and music in two acts.

IF YOU GO
Suzanne Vega
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 13
Tickets: $38
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.slimspresents.com

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