Playwright Spotlight: Sarah Ruhl

Well, it finally happened.  I didn’t get my Friday post done.  I had about six minutes before midnight when I got home last night and I considered the possibility for maybe half a second…and gave up.  🙂  I figure the three people who read this blog regularly will forgive me.  😉

Besides, I wanted to make sure I took the time necessary to do this blog justice. Why, you ask (Go ahead and ask why)…well, let me tell you!  Because today I’m highlighting a woman of incredible talent, creativity, theatricality, and vision.  She isn’t just my favorite female playwright; I believe she may have surpassed Arthur Miller (gasp!) to emerge victorious as my favorite PLAYWRIGHT. Ever.  And who is this person? (go ahead; ask who!) Her name is Sarah Ruhl. And she’s freaking amazing.

Playwright Sarah Ruhl. Photo taken by Fred R. Conrad of the New York Times.

I was first introduced to Ruhl’s work when my mentor Juanita Rockwell assigned her play, Eurydice, as part of my reading list for my first writing semester. I had an idea of what I wanted to write for my thesis script, but as I mentioned in my feature on Paula Vogel, I had no idea how that play was going to look.

From Sarah Ruhl's EURYDICE. Photo by Sara Krulwich.

I have a distinct memory of the moment I finished reading Eurydice. I was enjoying a bubble bath (no need to visualize here; let’s keep it clean) and as everyone who enjoys bubble baths must know, I was intent upon indulging in an excellent bit of reading to further enhance my relaxing bath-taking experience. Eurydice was a perfect choice. The play loosely follows the Greek mythological tale of Orpheus and Eurydice (they fall in love; she’s kidnapped to the Underworld; he goes down to rescue her but is told she can only go with him if he doesn’t look back at her; he looks back and she’s gone forever; sad times!). But Ruhl’s brilliance is that this isn’t a simply a retelling of an old story; she’s using the story to talk about relationships, mistakes, regrets, love, happiness, despair…so many things are packed into this incredibly beautiful tale (not to mention a chorus of stones and an elevator that rains inside). The play is incredibly theatrical and quite abstract, and yet it was so REAL.  The emotion was REAL. The people were REAL. The bits of conversation were so REAL. (For example, there’s a wonderful monologue where Eurydice’s dead father writes a letter to her on her wedding day, even though he can’t send it to her. TEAR-JERKER!)

And suddenly, as I’m finishing this stunning play, my eyes are wet. Not because of the bath, no; I am SOBBING over these characters. My heart is BROKEN for them.  I LOVE them and I am fighting for them and I realize that the woman who wrote this is a genius.

Fast forward a few weeks; I’m struggling with my own play. I can’t get the characters right.  Forget that; I can’t get anything right!  And Juanita (who, by the way, is also brilliant) reminds me of how much I loved Eurydice, and the way I connected with it. She suggested I try writing a play that utilized an old story or a well-known character in a similar fashion. And that’s when things started to click.  I still had a long road ahead of me, but without reading Eurydice, I never would have even found my way to the path.

I could go on and on for days about Sarah Ruhl, but I was reminded today that the average attention span is about 15 minutes and I’m probably already pushing it for some of you.  🙂 So let me leave you with a few REALLY exciting things:

For those of you who live in my neck of the woods (northeast Pennsylvania!), there are three fantastic opportunities you should be aware of.

1) The University of Scranton is doing a production of Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, another excellent play (and Pulitzer Prize nominee!) which I recently read. The show speaks to true love, loss, sacrifice, understanding (or lack thereof), the role of humor in our lives, the purpose of our lives…SO MANY THINGS (I don’t know how she packs them all in there!). It starts out feeling like a more “realistic” piece, but the same brilliant theatricality is there, as well as some stunning magical realism to create vivid metaphorical manifestations.  Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble did a production a few years ago and I missed the boat because I didn’t know who Sarah Ruhl was back then!  So sad. So now I’m really looking forward to this production, scheduled for October 28-30 and November 4-6. General admission is only $8 and you can’t beat that!  For more info visit The University of Scranton Players website.

From Sarah Ruhl's THE CLEAN HOUSE. Photo by Sara Krulwich for the New York Times.

2) Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (the theatrical home of Laurie McCants and a number of very talented playwrights and performers) is doing a production of Ruhl’s most recent play, In the Next Room or the vibrator play. Yes, that’s the title.  Yes, it’s for a good reason. No, it’s probably not as dirty as you think. 😉  Set in the Victorian time-period, BTE describes the show as “an innocent examination of some adult topics.” You’ve got some time before this one; the performances will be May 3-20, 2012.  And in case you didn’t know, In the Next Room is also being made into a film with Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal called Hysteria. It’s due for release in theatres sometime this year.

3) Save the best for last!  This is an opportunity I encourage all of you to partake in if you can because I, sadly, cannot.  SARAH RUHL IS COMING TO PENNSYLVANIA!  Ruhl is coming to The University of Scranton to do a Q & A session on Wednesday, October 19. I am tragically disappointed that this is happening while I will be in another state. What can you do, though, right?  The answer is pass it on to my fellow dramachicks and thespians; to all out there who know the value of a talkback session with an artist as talented as Ruhl.

So here’s what you can do; meet Sarah Ruhl for my sake. Take pictures. Ask good questions and write down the answers. Read one of her plays (I’m currently in the middle of reading Passion Play) and let her know you appreciate her contribution to the world of playwriting. Oh, and if I could ask one more favor…

Tell her that there’s a dramachick out there with a blog who wants to interview her.  😉

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About dramachicky

I am a dramachick: a playwright, actress, director, wife, singer, reader, aunt, daughter, student, teacher, and dreamer. My husband has taken to calling me dramachicky. :-) I have my M.A. and M.F.A. in creative writing/playwriting from Wilkes University. My husband and I started a small theatre group in northeast Pennsylvania called Ghostlight Productions. I love all things theatre and I am thrilled to launch this blog as a celebration of women playwrights.
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10 Responses to Playwright Spotlight: Sarah Ruhl

  1. Hi Rachel, I know I’m one of more than three who follow your blog!!! Often I want to respond, but home renovations and other pressing family matters have taken my time and focus. I appreciate your focus on women playwrights and the struggles they have finding equality. (The latest Dramatist Guild Magazine has a very interesting article on the subject.) Concerning your blog about pen names, for a year or two I’ve used only my initials when sending out scripts. However, now I’ve decided to own the fact I’m a woman and a playwright–for better or worse. Thank you for this blog on Sarah Ruhl. I had the privilege of seeing a very theatrical production of EURYDICE in Charlottesville, Virginia, two years ago. Stunning! How insightful for Juanita to inspire you to connect with Ruhl’s structure to build your own unique play! Keep blogging . . . late or not. You always make me think.
    Cindy Dlugolecki

    • dramachicky says:

      Cindy, thanks so much for the encouraging comment! I have yet to see a production of EURYDICE, but I do have a friend who may be directing one in the near future, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 🙂

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