Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sarah Ruhl

My schedule got a little messed up and I had to move up Eurydice to become the last play-of-the-week. This happened to coincide with my seeing Dead Man's Cellphone. So I decided to make this into an abbreviated Sarah Ruhl week. (Another one of her plays will be featured this Friday.)

There is much to be said about this up-and-coming writer and how she is beginning to impact American theatre. After being unheard of, her play The Clean House was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005 and then she won a MacArthur Fellowship (known as the "Genius Grant") all before the age of 32.

I had the pleasure to meet her once. Ms. Ruhl is a Chicago-area native and spent her younger days studying with Grace Piven at the Piven Theatre. Her Melancholy Play (which we will discuss on Friday) had its world premier there, and Eurydice was staged shortly after that.

My friend was the lighting designer for the project and having fallen behind called me for a late night session of handing and focusing lights. Having nothing better to do than lock myself in a theatre for the evening with my friend and order pizza, I of course said "yes."

After a run to Home Depot and a half-hour into our hang, we began our usual dialogue. I, up on a ladder, asked her if I would get to come along with the awesome lighting designer and see the show on opening night. She said that opening was already sold out and she did not even know if she was going to be able to get in. It was not a big deal as I would be busy the next morning with a reading and did not give it another thought.

A week later, I got a call from my friend at work.

"Do you want to see the opening tonight in Evanston?" she asked.

"I thought you said it was sold out."

"It is. But I am going to stand in the back."

Knowing that going to see a new play in Chicago can often be a painful experience, let alone standing for the whole thing, I began to squirm.

"It's been a long week and I was looking forward to just going home and getting ready for my reading. Besides, I don't know if I want to go all the way up to Evanston just to stand in the back for the show."

"Listen," she said. "I think this is a show you need to see. It's short. It's only 90 minutes and we'll sit on the piano or something. It's totally worth it."

So I finished up my day at work and hopped on the Purple line train for Evanston. We had dinner and were hanging out in the lobby waiting for the house to open when an unassuming woman walked up.

"I want to introduce you to the playwright," my friend said.

I can remember thinking to myself as I shook her hand that I probably was not going to like her show and I felt a little bad. This is a good example of how easily you can be proven wrong.

When the lights came up at the end of the show, my friend turned to me.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"It's perfect!" I said in amazement.

And it was. From the moment Orpheus proposes to Eurydice tying a piece a string around his finger so she won't forget she loves him (see May 23, 2008 posting) to the Father's final monologue underscored by "Somewhere Beyond the Sea," I was transfixed. This show was the example of everything I believed about theatre. The beauty, the creativity, the delicate storyline... I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.

"I think," said my friend, "you should tell her that."

"Oh no," I said. "I wouldn't be able to form a complete sentence."

At the reception, after a half hour or so later I finally go the courage up go over and talk to her.

"Ms. Ruhl? I just wanted to say that your play was quite wonderful. I really enjoyed it. I think it was perfect."

"You're Lynne's friend, right?" (She remembered me?)

She asked me if I was in lighting as well and I told her that I was in fact a director.

"Well," she said, "I'll look out for your work."

1 comment:

  1. Very nice story. I too, think this is a perfect story and the epitome of what a show should do for its audience :)