From the Arthur Miller Archives

The Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has acquired the archives of Arthur Miller, from his first play “No Villain” (1936), written when Miller was at the University of Michigan, to “Finishing the Picture” (2004), produced just months before his death.

Here are some items from the 322 linear feet of material, with captions largely provided by the Center.


Top 10 Most-Produced Plays and Playwrights in America 2017-2018

Below is the list of the most-produced plays compiled by American Theatre Magazine of member theaters of Theatre Communications Group (in other words, non-profit theaters throughout the United States) — excluding Shakespeare’s plays and A Christmas Carol, (which are always first.)

The links are to my reviews of New York productions.

  1. Shakespeare in Love, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard:
  2. Fun Home, adapted by Lisa Kron, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, lyrics by Kron, and music by Jeanine Tesori:
  3. Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau:
  4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens from the novel by Mark Haddon
  5. Marjorie Prime by Jordan Harrison
  6. The Humans by Stephen Karam
  7. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  8. Heisenberg by Simon Stephens
  9. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon:
  10. Sense and Sensibility 
    adapted by Kate Hamill from Jane Austen:
    adapted by Emma Whipday and Brian McMahon:

Here are the most produced playwrights (again not including Shakespeare):

Read more of this post

2017 Kilroys List of 37 Good But Little Produced Plays by Female and Trans Playwrights of Color

Kilroys 2017
kilroys2016Below is the 2017 Kilroys list of 37 plays by women and trans writers of color most recommended in a survey of “273 influential new play leaders”  Most of the plays have never been produced; none have been produced more than once. This is the fourth annual list by the Kilroys, a playwright and producer collective. 
The plays are below are those that received the most nominations; the Kilrosy provided the descriptions.
Part comedy, part mystery, part rock concert, this thrilling story toggles back and forth in time, as father and daughter face the music of the past. Neary, a young Cambodian American has found evidence that could finally put away the Khmer Rouge’s chief henchman. But her work is far from done. When Dad shows up unannounced—his first return to Cambodia since fleeing 30 years ago—it’s clear this isn’t just a pleasure trip.
THE GREAT LEAP by Lauren Yee
When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly-changing country and Chinese American player Manford seeks a lost connection. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action in the stadium. Inspired by events in the life of the playwright’s own father.
YOGA PLAY by Dipika Guha
Just when newly hired CEO Joan is about to launch a new brand of women’s yoga pants, yoga apparel giant Jojomon is hit by a terrible scandal. Desperate to win back the company’s reputation (and her own), Joan stakes everything on a plan so crazy it just might work. YOGA PLAY is a journey towards enlightenment in a world determined to sell it.   
THIRST by C. A. Johnson
Samira and Greta lead a peaceful life. They have their own clearing in the woods, their own hut, and their son Kalil to keep them laughing. When Kalil returns home one day without their water rations, however, Samira and Greta find themselves in conflict with their local political leader. Set in a tense segregated society, Thirst is a complex look at race and love in war-time.
BLKS by aziza barnes
Some days feel like they will never end. After a morning that includes a cancer scare and kicking her girlfriend out of the house, Octavia decides to have a last turn up with her best friends. 
In Affreakah-Amirrorkah, an imaginary but uncannily familiar place, debutantes Akim, Adama, Kaya, and Massassi embody the culture’s notion of Beauty in all its shades and shapes. Still, something about Akim sets her apart, and her allure makes her a target for Massassi and her pretty, “jealous” peers. If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka weaves contemporary African and American cultures into a sweeping journey about what—and whom—we suppress in pursuit of an ideal always just beyond reach.
IS GOD IS by Aleshea Harris
IS GOD IS is an epic tale of twin sisters who, haunted by a brutal family history, sojourn West to seek revenge.
WE, THE INVISIBLES by Susan Soon He Stanton
In 2011, the director of the International Monetary Fund was accused of sexual assault by a hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, but all charges were dismissed. we, the invisibles shares the rarely-heard stories of people like Diallo, people from all over the globe working at New York’s luxury hotels. Funny, poignant, and brutally honest by turns, the play is an investigation of the complicated relationship between movers and shakers and the people who change their sheets.
QUEEN by Madhuri Shekar
At the very last minute, a scientist realizes that her groundbreaking environmental paper – co-authored with her best friend – is based on flawed data. Should she risk her friendship, her career, the fate of the world… for the truth?
Taking refuge from a twitterstorm and other assorted upheaval on a last-minute camping trip, Mel and Arjun meet Georgia, a solitary young woman studying the impact of climate change on the imperiled Joshua tree.
HANG MAN by Stacy Amma Osei-Kuffour
The community of a shitty southern town grapples with the murder of a Black man who is found hanging from a tree.
When Monique and her 10-year-old daughter Samantha show up unexpectedly on her sister’s Brooklyn doorstep, it’s the beginning of the end for Rachel and her partner Nadima’s orderly lifestyle. Monique is on the run from deep trouble, her husband Reggie is nowhere to be seen, and Samantha becomes ever haunted by the life in southern Georgia she was forced to leave behind. Poetic, dark and often deeply funny Last Night and the Night Before explores the complex power, necessity, and beauty of loss. 
EL HURACÁN by Charise Castro Smith
In Miami, on the eve of Hurricane Andrew, three generations of women huddle together to weather the storm. Beset by late-stage Alzheimers, Valeria (the family matriarch and a former magicienne) wanders between present-day family tensions and the siren call of her memories. But thirty years later, in the wake of a seemingly unforgivable mistake, the family is faced with the impossible necessity of reconciliation. Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, El Huracán is a story about what we carry when we’re forced to leave everything behind. 
TWO MILE HOLLOW by Leah Nanako Winkler
When the Donnelly’s gather for a weekend in the country to gather their belongings for their recently sold estate—both an internal storm and a literal storm brews (uh oh!). As this brood of famous, longing-to-be-famous and kind of a mess but totally Caucasian family comes together with their non-white personal assistant, Charlotte, some really really really really really complicated and totally unique secrets are revealed over white wine…
Sabrina Jackson cannot cope with the death of her 14-year-old son by a White cop. Rather than herald the Black Lives Matter movement, Sabrina retreats inward, living out a comic book superhero fantasy. Will Sabrina stay in this splash-and-pow dream world where sons don’t die, or return to reality and mourn her loss?
ENDLINGS by Celine Song
On the island of Man-Jae in Korea, three elderly women spend their dying days diving into the ocean to harvest seafood with nothing but a rusty knife. They are “haenyeos”— “sea women” —and there are no heiresses to their millennium-old tradition. ENDLINGS is a real estate lesson from the last three remaining “haenyeos” in the world: don’t live on an island. Unless it’s the island of Manhattan…
EVE’S SONG by Patricia Ione Lloyd
Outside, black men and women are being killed by police. Inside, Deborah is trying to keep her smart-but-weird son and newly-out daughter safe and happy as light bulbs pop, shadows come to life, and the house gets strangely colder. With theatricality and lyricism, this unlikely ghost story explores what it means to let your song be heard in a world that’s trying to silence you.
1888. Paris and Provence. A failing artist in desperate pursuit of a new way of seeing, haunted by his past, and hoping to remake his future in the color and light of the south. At what point in an endless cycle of failures does faith and persistence become delusion and foolishness? A meditation on love, art, and not being popular.
florissant & canfield by Kristiana Rae Colón
at the intersection of tear gas and teddy bear memorials, at the intersection of darren wilson and michael brown, at the intersection of looting and liberation, florissant & canfield refracts the realities of ferguson in the wake of the black lives matter movement. colliding in the unlikely eden of a civil rights renaissance, a newly formed alliance of protesters are forced to put their nascent ideologies to the test in the quest for new visions of justice.  
LES FRÉRES by Sandra A. Daley-Sharif
Inspired by Lorainne Hansberry’s Les Blancs, Les Fréres tells the story of three estranged brothers of Haitian descent, who come home to Harlem for their father’s final days. Troubled memories filled with anger and abuse come rushing back as they deal with their father’s death. They are forced to deal with how each choose to deal with memories, how each have escaped, feelings of abandonment, betrayal and loss. Finally, the end asks two of the brothers if they will escape back into the lives they have forged for themselves or will they try to make new life amongst the embers of pain. The play deals with issues of race and culture, family, and identity.
A bestselling novelist returns to Nigeria to care for her ailing father, but before she can bury him, she must relearn the traditions she’s long forgotten. Having been absent for over a decade, she must collide with her culture, traumatic past, painful regrets, and the deep, deep love she thought she could never have.
REDWOOD by Brittany K. Allen
Redwood concerns an interracial couple (Meg, a middle school teacher, and Drew, a physicist) who are thrown into crisis when Meg’s recently-retired Uncle Stevie makes a project of charting the family tree, via When Stevie discovers that his would-be nephew-in-law is heir apparent to the family that owned his (and subsequently, Meg’s) relatives in an antebellum Kentucky, a time and space-bending dramedy of manners gone very far South ensues. Long-dead ancestors appear, to comment on their light-skinned progeny. Meg speechifies on the nature of forgetting before the State Senate, and a hip-hop dance class chorus guides the action. The play is interested in the ways love can and cannot transcend both modern social barriers and historical power structures. Meg and Drew must learn if we can we ever truly forgive, champion or fully understand those beloved who are fundamentally ‘other.’
BURNED by Amina Henry
Jamal wants to be force for good, like a Jedi in Star Wars, but he did a bad thing, firebombing a synagogue for money. Now he wonders if he’s an evil Sith. A fugitive, he lays low at his mother Mary’s house. Mary and Jo, Jamal’s girlfriend, wonder about the good and evil in Jamal, too, as they witness the different parts of him. For Officer Brown, Jamal is just one thing: black.
HATEFUCK by Rehana Lew Mirza
A local Michigan literary professor seeks out a famous Muslim-American novelist to find out if he’s a self-hating Islamophobe or a really good lay. But they find that getting under each other’s skin can easily become a habit, for better or worse.
An explosive elixir of power, class, and immigration status, which, when shaken hard with love and betrayal, creates a dangerous cocktail that threatens to destroy lives. In this Spanish language infused contemporary adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie is set in the back kitchen of a Miami hotel during a night of debauchery.
NOMAD MOTEL by Carla Ching
Alix lives in a tiny motel room with her mother and two brothers, scrabbling to make weekly rent. Mason lives comfortably in a grand, empty house while his father runs jobs for the Hong Kong Triad. Until the day his father disappears and Mason has to figure out how to come up with grocery money and dodge Child Services and the INS. Mason and Alex develop an unlikely friendship, struggling to survive, and trying to outrun the mistakes of their parents. Will they make it out or fall through the cracks? A play about Motel Kids and Parachute Kids raising themselves and living at the poverty line in a land of plenty.
NOURA by Heather Raffo
NOURA reflects the dilemma facing modern America: do we live for each other or for ourselves? Told from inside the marriage of an Iraqi immigrant family to New York, the play speaks directly to modern marriage and the leaving of home. This fast paced script highlights an acutely relevant awakening of identity that tackles our notions of, shame, violence, assimilation, exile and love. It’s a unique insight into the interior crisis that lies behind the collapse of the modern Middle East and America’s inseparable relationship to it.
USUAL GIRLS by Ming Peiffer
On an elementary school playground, a boy threatens to tell on a group of girls for swearing – unless one of them kisses him. But just before lips can touch, Kyeoung tackles the boy to the ground. The victory is short-lived. Over the coming years, Kyeoung herself is knocked down again and again. By an alcoholic dad. A group of quick-to-judge friends. And an endlessly invasive parade of men. As we follow Kyeoung from the discoveries of childhood to the realities of adulthood, her stories get stranger, funnier, more harrowing – and more familiar. How do girls grow up? Quickly, painfully, wondrously.
AZUL by Christina Quintana
When a lifelong New Yorker faces the loss of her Cuban-born mother and her own sense of identity in the process, she digs into her legacy and uncovers the story of her mother’s beloved aunt, her own tia-abuela whom she never met. While the family fled Cuba at the time of Castro’s revolution, she remained on the island for the love of another woman—a complicated choice in a less forgiving time. 
What happens when a woman trapped in a dead-end job and a fizzling relationship accidentally gets pregnant by a man that she’s not dating? A coming of age story about race, class and motherhood, BREACH examines how hard it is to love others when it’s you that you loathe most of all.
HOW TO CATCH CREATION by Christina Anderson
A wrongly convicted man is released from prison after 25 years. As he settles into a new life he begins the quest to become a father. Spanning more than 40 years, this play explores family, connection, parenthood, and the right to start over.
Is an Origin story of the Goddess Nike and a retelling of the Olympus myth Black Greek Super hero style
SELLING KABUL by Sylvia Khoury
Taroon once served as an interpreter for the United States military in Afghanistan. Now the Americans – and their promises of safety – are gone, and Taroon spends his days in his sister Afiya’s apartment, hiding from the increasingly powerful Taliban. Desperate to escape with his wife and newborn son, Taroon must navigate a country left in upheaval, in which everyone must fend for themselves and few can be trusted.
SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER by Chisa Hutchinson
A Chinese-American guidance counselor helps a troubled protege through some gender-bias bullshit. 
During the Chinese Exclusion Act, Harry Chin, a Chinese national, entered the U.S. by buying forged documentation. Like other “Paper Sons,” Harry underwent a brutal detention and interrogation, and lived the rest of his life keeping secrets – even from his daughter. Told through the eyes of a middle-aged Chin, THE PAPER DREAMS OF HARRY CHIN reveals the complicated loves and regrets of this Chinese immigrant who wound up in Minnesota. Through dreamlike leaps of time and space and with the powerful assistance of ghosts, the story of the Chin family reveals the personal and political repercussions of making group of people “illegal.”
In this satirical comedy, a mismatched but well-meaning foursome sets out to devise a politically correct school play that can somehow sensitively celebrate both Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month. How can this wildly diverse quartet-separated by cultural chasms and vastly different perspectives on history-navigate a complicated, hilarious thicket of privilege, representation, and of course school district regulations? The schools are waiting, and the pageant must go on!
UNRELIABLE by Dipika Guha
Gretchen is a lawyer. Yusuf is her client. Yusuf is being held indefinitely without trial for terrorism. Hattie is Gretchen’s mother. Only, Hattie thinks Gretchen is a secretary, Gretchen thinks Hattie is sick and Yusuf believes he’s been framed. In a world of competing narratives, facts no longer exist. UNRELIABLE investigates the consequences of living only in a story of your choosing.

2017 Tony Nominees: A Closer Look…and Listen.

Below are 2017 Tony Award nominees who spoke at the Meet the Nominees press reception the day after the announcement, grouped more or less show by show. Click on individual photographs to read sometimes extensive captions that quote what they said about their show or their career or the theater in general.

More to come.

Women Playwrights Who Won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Fifteen women have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. On this International Women’s Day, we celebrate them and their work. (Each play title is linked to an Amazon page where you can learn more about it, and purchase the script.)

Zona Gale, Miss Lulu Bett, 1921

Susan Glaspell, Alison’s House, 1931

Zoe Akins, The old maid,, 1935

Mary Coyle Chase, Harvey, 1945

Frances Goodrich, The Diary of Anne Frank., 1956 (co-written with Albert Hackett)

Ketti Frings, Look Homeward, Angel, 1958

Beth Henley, Crimes of the Heart., 1981

Marsha Norman, ‘night, Mother, 1983

Wendy Wasserstein, The Heidi Chronicles., 1989

Paula Vogel, How I Learned to Drivee, 1998

Margaret Edson, Wit, 1999

Suzan-Lori Parks, TOPDOG UNDERDOG, 2002

Lynn Nottage, Ruined, 2009

Quiara Alegría Hudes, Water by the Spoonful, 2012

Annie Baker, The Flick, 2014

Most Produced Plays and Playwrights of 2016-17, According to American Theatre

A play starring a demonic hand puppet tops American Theatre Magazine’s annual survey of the most popular plays that will be produced by non-profit theaters throughout the country in the 2016-2017 season.”Hand to God” by Robert Askins will be presented in 13 theaters this season.

August Wilson will be  the most produced playwright.

Below are the two lists compiled by American Theatre. With the first list, of the top produced shows, I include photographs and links to my reviews of the original (or latest) New York productions where available. The number next to each title is how many productions are planned for this season.

A few caveats: The American Theatre Magazine survey is only of some 400 theaters that are members of TCG, a national service organization for non-profit theaters that is also the publisher of American Theatre Magazine. Its list does not include the perennially most popular shows  — A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Santaland Diaries, adapted by Joe Mantello from David Sedaris, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night.

Hand to God

Hand to God

Hand to God by Robert Askins: 13

ConstellationsSamuel J. Friedman Theatre
Constellations by Nick Payne: 10



Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar: 10

Million Dollar Quartet by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott: 10

The Christians

The Christians

The Christians by Lucas Hnath: 8

Peter and the StarcatcherNew York Theatre Workshop
Peter and the Starcatcher, adapted by Rick Elice from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson: 8

The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez: 7

Sex With Strangers with Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Billy Magnussen (Spike)

Sex With Strangers with Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Billy Magnussen (Spike)

Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason: 7

Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage: 6

Oliver Chris as Prince William and Lydia Wilson as his wife Kate Middleton

Oliver Chris as Prince William and Lydia Wilson as his wife Kate Middleton

King Charles III by Mike Bartlett: 6

Denzel Washington and Sophie Okonedo in Raisin in the Sun

Denzel Washington and Sophie Okonedo in Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry: 6

Sister Act
Sister Act, with book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Glenn Slater: 6

Most Produced Playwrights in 2016-17 Season

August Wilson: 17
Lauren Gunderson: 16
(including 4 cowriting credits)
Arthur Miller: 15
Ayad Akhtar: 14
Tennessee Williams: 14
Robert Askins: 13
Annie Baker: 12
Quiara Alegría Hudes: 11
(including 6 cowriting credits)
Ken Ludwig: 11
(including 1 cowriting credit)
Tony Kushner: 10
(including 2 cowriting credits)
Suzan-Lori Parks: 10
Nick Payne: 10
Karen Zacarías: 10
Rick Elice: 9
(including 1 cowriting credit)
Lucas Hnath: 9
Matthew Lopez: 9
Lynn Nottage: 9
Mark St. Germain: 9
(including 1 cowriting credit)
Mike Bartlett: 8
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins: 8
Molière: 8

Judith Malina, co-founder of the Living Theatre, June 4, 1926 – April 10, 2015

“Tremble: your whole life is a rehearsal for the moment you are in now”~Judith Malina

Judith Malina, co-founder of the Living Theatre, died this morning at age 88.

From her obituary in the New York Times:

For movie and television buffs, especially those not old enough to remember beatniks, Lenny Bruce, Vietnam War protests or other symbols of remonstration against Eisenhower-era complacency, Ms. Malina was best known as a character actress. She appeared on “The Sopranos” (as Aunt Dottie, a dying nun who reveals to the gangster known as Paulie Walnuts that she is actually his mother) and in films including “The Addams Family,” Woody Allen’s “Radio Days” and, perhaps most memorably, “Dog Day Afternoon,” as the anguished and frantic mother of Sonny Wortzik, the misguided bank robber played by Al Pacino.

But she steered a far more emphatic and influential course with the troupe sometimes known simply as the Living, which occupied the leading edge of stage experimentation in the 1950s and 1960s and both fed and fed on the counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s. It was perhaps the most prominent and persistent advocate for a “new theater,” one that sought to dissolve the accepted artifice of stage presentations, to conjoin art and political protest, and to shrink, if not eliminate, the divide between performers and the audience.

Appreciation of a theatrical trailblazer by Charles McNulty in the L.A. Times

Had Judith Malina never existed, the 1960s would surely have had to invent her. Yet it was Malina, a diminutive, German-born, American theater provocateur of immense boldness, recklessness, commitment and courage, who actually helped crystallize our notions of 1960s aesthetic and political radicalism with the Living Theatre, the company she founded with husband Julian Beck in 1948.

Malina and Julian Beck began the Living Theatre in the 1940s, which for the last several decades has been called “legendary,” though many attached angrier adjectives at the beginning.

From an interview with her in 2014:

Born in Kiel, Germany, in 1926, Malina says that her early life experiences, which included fleeing Germany with her parents, shaped her political vision. (Her father was an outspoken critic of the Nazis and feared their rise was inevitable.) But she also believes that her future as an actress was something that was preordained.

LivingTheaterJudithMalina“My mother had been an actress,” she says, “but my father was a rabbi, so she had to quit. This was the 1920s. A rabbi couldn’t be married to an actress. Although, today, you can be a rabbi and an actress. See how far we’ve come?”

Her parents, she adds, “didn’t just want a daughter, they wanted an actress to take my mother’s place.” And as soon as the family moved to New York, when Malina was 3 years old, she was immediately introduced to performing.

“When we first got to New York,” she recalls, “my father was trying to make people aware of what was going on in Germany, and he later worked to get German Jews out of concentration camps. And I was out there, reciting poetry to get the American public to pay attention. I would read these sad poems and my mother would be standing there, counting the handkerchiefs. If there weren’t enough handkerchiefs, I got scolded.”

Malina met Beck in 1943, when she was just 17,

In later years, as both a writer and actress, Malina soon embraced… revolution …

“I would like to get rid of poverty, ban money and national boundaries, and get rid of prisons, cops and violence,” she says.

“Because if we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to destroy the planet.”

My last review of a show at the Living Theatre, in 2013:


At the start of the hugely engaging “Here We Are,” the final production of the Living Theatre at its current home, I am greeted by a performer named Jay Dobkin, a member of the influential avant-garde political theater company that Julian Beck and Judith Malina founded in 1947. Dobkin helps me put away my coat and bag: “We’ll be exploring the whole of human history tonight; we don’t want your stuff to be toppled by the Roman Army,” he jokes. He then spends the entire 75 minutes of “Here We Are” guiding me through what feels like an arts-and-crafts workshop at a summer camp. He traces my feet onto pieces of plastic and then helps me make sandals out of it; he hands me a blindfold to put on briefly while the cast chants, “We are the prisoners”; he gives me a “ballot” and instructs me to put it in a ballot box and tell everybody what I would like most to see happen in the world; he encourages me to dance with some of the other performers. In-between his ministrations to me, he joins the rest of the ensemble, backed by a live band, to chant, sing, and dance while waving banners; portray citizens of France, Spain, and the Ukraine; and present a gleeful finale involving freeform dancing and a song whose lyric consists of the repeated refrain “the beautiful nonviolent anarchist revolution.”

Dobkin, who describes himself as an anarchist, a pacifist, and an atheist, has been a member of the Living Theatre since 1997. Most of the rest of the company in “Here We Are” looks as if they were in kindergarten then. Young, attractive, and welcoming, each is assigned to a different member of the audience, their aim to make us feel connected. This is not a theater that establishes its experimental credentials by confrontation.

Some would find it easy to spoof what the Living Theater does. Dressed all in black, moving gracefully while chanting about revolution, the 15 lithe performers seem the living embodiment of those long-ago Jules Feiffer cartoons in the Village Voice about bohemian New Yorkers titled “A Dance to…” But, using the language of the avant-garde, “Here We Are” has some substantive things to say. Its writer and director, the 86-year-old Malina—who sits unobtrusively in the corner during the performance—presents an argument that the next step in civilization is self-rule by what she calls “anarchist consensus.” We are presented with scenes from three anarchist collectives in history—the Paris Commune in 1871, the Ukraine in 1918, and Barcelona in 1936—that she says functioned well, until the authorities toppled them.

Forced from the theater it has occupied for six years (and still searching for someplace more affordable), the Living Theatre, rightly labeled legendary but still fresh, is worth catching even if you find its values or approach foreign. Would you decline the chance to see Sarah Bernhardt just because you didn’t speak French?

Presented by and at the Living Theatre, 21 Clinton St., NYC. Jan. 23–Feb. 23, 2013


“To stand up on the stage is to say to many people: Look at me. How can you do that without speaking the only truth you know? There is no such thing as an uncommitted actor.”~Judith Malina

The Nether Playwright Jennifer Haley: Merging Online With On Stage

JenHaleyJennifer Haley did not set out to become the first major playwright of the digital age, but that is what has happened.

The Nether,” which imagines a future where people lose themselves in a virtual world, will close a successful run Off-Broadway March 29th; the play has won for her all sorts of attention and awards, such as four Olivier Award nominations (including best new play) for the West End production, seven Ovation Awards (including playwriting) for the West Coast production, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and the Francesca Primus Prize, which she received this week at the ATCA conference in New Orleans. “The Nether” is just one of her plays to explore the blurring line between cyberreality and reality. An earlier play that debuted at the Humana Festival in 2008, “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom,” she describes as “a horror story about suburban video game addiction.” She is developing “Froggy,” about a woman who travels through a video-game universe looking for her boyfriend — which she calls a noir thriller inspired by graphic novels,  and featuring interactive video design.

Haley’s own blurring line between two worlds — online and on stage – began inauspiciously. “I was working at a small theatre in Austin in the mid-90’s when I became aware of the Internet,” she told me. “I had a distant friend who was already getting into web design, and I actually remember thinking she was foolish for jumping onto a fad!”

Ben Rosenfield, Sophia Anne Caruso  and Merritt Wever in The Nether

Ben Rosenfield, Sophia Anne Caruso and Merritt Wever in The Nether

Haley began writing plays in college. “I was a Liberal Arts and Drama major at the University of Texas at Austin, and was generally frustrated with the roles I was getting — the female roles didn’t seem half so interesting as the male roles — so I decided to write cool stuff for myself and my friends. I kept acting and writing for several years, then figured I’d rather be really good at one of them than pretty good at both. I chose writing because I still loved being on the generative end of the process.” She eventually studied playwriting with Paula Vogel at Brown’s MFA program. (“I went to graduate school with talent; I came out with talent plus craft.”)

TheNether6RosenfieldandCarusoFour years after first learning about the Internet, Haley was working in a theater in Seattle, “and I got to be a part of a program that trained artists and employees of arts non-profits in web design. I learned HTML and Photoshop, and continued working part time with the company while I built up my business as a freelance designer. That work was my bread and butter for thirteen years while I was trying to turn writing into a career.”

“There was no direct connection between becoming a web designer and a playwright. After years of doing both, they simply started to merge…”

JenniferHaleybShe came up with the idea for “The Nether” in 2010, when she recalled one of the major lessons she learned from Paula Vogel five years earlier: “write what you hate.” Haley hated television police procedurals, so she imagined a detective interviewing a suspect who had committed crimes online. The crimes are pedophilia and child murder, but the crimes are virtual — the “child” is an avatar; the real person behind the man is a 65-year-old man. In the play, though, the child is meant to be portrayed by a child actress. “I spent a month trying to decide if I should rewrite that part,” she told the critics in New Orleans. She understood that it was shocking, even though the young actress does nothing more graphic than lift up her dress over her head (the dress is just the outer layer of a multi-layered Victorian garment.) Haley decided to keep it as is — “Having a child in the play made the play warmer” — and she was surprised and gratified that “people are willing to produce it, people willing to watch it, and people willing to talk about it.

The Nether at  the Duke of York's Theatre in London.

The Nether at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.

“The hardest thing to learn is that a piece of work usually takes its own time. But the Nether was a quickie; from the time I started it to the time it was produced was three years.”

“The Nether,” which premiered at L.A.’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2013, is slated for yet another production at the Wooly Mammoth in D.C. in April, 2016.

She doesn’t want her plays to be seen as anti-tech, but rather as explorations about how we use technology to “play out our own neuroses.” As she has said, “the danger lies in spending so much time online that you neglect having a life and relationships in the real world.”

The cast of the MCC production of The Nether: Merritt Wever, Peter Friedman, Sophia Anne Caruso, Ben Rosenfield, Frank Wood

The cast of the MCC production of The Nether: Merritt Wever, Peter Friedman, Sophia Anne Caruso, Ben Rosenfield, Frank Wood

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write…Sarah Ruhl’s Tweets on Theater

sarahruhlSarah Ruhl is the only playwright who’s an author of one of the 100 Notable Books of 2014 selected by the New York Times – and the book they selected is not a play.  It is “100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater” — and the title is longer than some of the 100 essays. (The complete text of essay 11, which is entitled “An essay in praise of smallness” is the following: “I admire minimalism.”)

The book has received what may be the greatest raves of Sarah Ruhl’s writing career — “compulsory reading for fans and practitioners alike” (American Theatre); “a work of profound moral organization” whose “deeper purpose is to define the artist’s relationship to truth and to demonstrate how, from within the correctness of the artistic process, life can be meaningfully understood.” (New York Times Book Review) — a sentence I didn’t meaningfully understand.

Stage Kiss

Stage Kiss

The Oldest Boy

The Oldest Boy

The reviews can be viewed as ironic, because the playwright of “The Clean House” and “In The Next Room,” and, most recently, Stage Kiss (which I loved) and The Oldest Boy (which I found beautifully rendered), makes clear that she only wrote these essays because she was temporarily unable to write plays.

The first essay (1. On Interruptions) apologizes for the brevity of the essays, and explains how they came to be: She gave birth to twins. The last two paragraphs of that first essay:

“There was a time, when I first found out I was pregnant with twins, that I saw only a state of conflict. When I looked at theater and parenthood I saw only war, competing loyalties, and I thought my writing life was over. There were times when it felt as though my children were annihilating me (truly you have not lived until you have changed one baby’s diaper while another baby quietly vomits on your shin) and finally I came to the thought: all right, then, annihilate me, that other self was a fiction anyhow. And then I could breathe. I could investigate the pauses.

“I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life. And that, tempting as it may be for a writer who is also a parent, one must not think of life as an intrusion. At the end of the day, writing has very little to do with writing, and much to do with life. And life, by definition, is not an intrusion.”

It occurred to me right away how that last sentence would literally fit as a Tweet, with just a little tweaking:

“At the end of the day,writing has very little to do w/ writing,& much to do with life.And life,by definition,is not an intrusion.”

And as I read her book, I realized how many Tweets they contained, enough to fill the running time of the average play.

I need to make three points here:

1. This is not meant as snarky put-down. I Tweet every day.

Sarah Ruhl essay book cover2. This is not a way of arguing that her book is too quirky to be treated so seriously. (Essay number 61 explains that she hates the words “quirky” and “whimsy” — two words frequently applied to her plays as well.)  It’s true I savored most the personal stories she works into the essays. Her longest essay, at seven pages (80. Is playwriting teachable? the example of Paula Vogel), is one of my favorite. It really just tells the story of how she became a playwright,  and her relationship with her teacher at Brown University, the playwright Paula Vogel; it offers tasty tidbits of Ruhl’s life and (forgive me) her whimsical nature —  how, for example, she named her twins Hope and William because these were the streets in Providence, Rhode Island at the intersection of which she met her husband. But it would be hard for me to deny what the American Theatre review claims — that, in spite of the book’s “fragmentary nature, it presents a surprisingly clear portrait of the author’s worldview” as “a true aesthete, a dyed-in-the-wool romantic, and that rarest of creatures: a writer who is both an optimist and an idealist.”

3. Sarah Ruhl does not Tweet. I know this not just because you can’t find her on Twitter, but because of her reaction when she watched the audience at the Tony Awards during the commercial breaks. “What were these rarefied creatures doing? They were texting. And I thought, The age of experience is truly over; we are entering the age of commentary.” (71. The age of commentary.) But most of them were probably Tweeting – and sharing their experience with their followers. In other essays, Ruhl admits to being schoolmarmish at times; this is one of those times.


Recalling the time when a fire alarm drove audience and actors of her “Passion Play” onto the street – where the actors finished performing the play – she writes that it made her remember:

Theater is at its roots some very brave people mutually consenting to a make-believe world, with nothing but language to rest on.

She longs for a time when theater was less rational, when theaters didn’t look and smell like airports…

The theater is one of the few places left in the bright and noisy world where we sit in the quiet dark together, to be awake.

…when theater makers didn’t focus on commercial success

Failure loosens the mind; perfection stills the heart. More failure! More demand for failure! More bad plays! Less perfection! More ugliness! More grace!

From Essay 74. Theater is a preparation for death:

Every night when a curtain comes down, a world dies. The world of present relation dies, and one mourns the end by applauding

As I read on, I began to see that nearly every one of her essays had a Tweet in it.

From 82. A love note to dramaturges

We need you to fight the mania for clarity and help create a mania for beauty instead.

From 85 What about all that office space?

Marketing people have jobs and health insurance and chairs, but artists generally don’t.

From 90. Oh the proscenium and oh the curtain

If a world without curtains is a world without illusions, then perhaps we should hold onto the curtains.

From 98. The audience is not a camera; or, how to protect your audience from death.

Regard with suspicion any idea that seems cool.

The cool idea in this essay was that to make the bleachers where the audience sat move back suddenly and without warning. The mechanism had been put in place before Ruhl realized it might   fall through the floor (which had holes in it) and kill everybody.

Some of her essays can be shaped into Tweets:

What theater making shares w/ parenting:
Dealing w/ irrational people day and night
Embracing impermanence
Both are embodied art forms

For more about the book and the playwright, check out this interview with Sarah Ruhl by Polly Carl in Howlround.

Playwright Doug Wright on Creating Characters Out of Real People

There are dangers in creating a fictional work for stage or screen about a real person, as playwright and screenwriter Doug Wright explains: “Whenever you write about a historical figure, some academic slaving away somewhere who’s devoted their entire life to (the subject), and they see in your play or movie, their first opportunity to have a piece in the New York Times to talk about what that author got wrong.”
In the video below, Wright talks about the very different approaches he took in three works of art about actual people — Marquis de Sade in Wright’s play and movie “Quills,” Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’s eccentric family members Edith and Edie Beale in the musical “Grey Gardens,” and the cross-dressing East German Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in Wright’s Tony and Pulitzer winning play “I Am My Own Wife” He spoke at a luncheon for theater critics at Sardi’s.