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October 19, 2016

A Sarah Rules Roundtable


I have had the pleasure, both as an executive and artistic director of two separate organizations, to produced Sarah Ruhl’s work. Her accolades certainly speak for themselves.  The distinguished venues and performance companies that have played roles in her accomplishments are pinnacle institutions within the theater industry. There is no arguing that her influence has been recognized at the highest levels: Pulitzer, Tony, and Blackburn.  With that noted, I interviewed colleagues and directors that have worked or will be working on Sarah Ruhl’s pieces at both The Playhouse San Antonio and The Modern Theater Coeur d’Alene.  Here is what they had to say about why Sarah rules.

Mindy Fuller directed In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play for The Playhouse San Antonio. She calls it an extremely challenging but rewarding experience. “One of my favorite moments in this play is when the wet nurse speaks about how each of us is simply ‘on loan’ from God and that’s why she is able to move past the loss of her own child because she understands that relationship with the divine maker as fluid and continuous,” said Fuller. The show delivered its story to full houses full of laughter and tears. Mindy goes on to say, “Humans are driven, we desire and we need to be connected to other human beings. Through intimate relationships of all kinds we experience truth and realization of self, we experience growth and sacrifice and understanding of concepts greater than oneself. Intimate relationships are those that truly set us free.  Sarah Ruhl’s play In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play gives a voice to these characters so that their stories are shared and an awakening can begin within the audience.”

STAGE KISS. Credit: Siggi Ragnar.

STAGE KISS. Credit: Siggi Ragnar.

J. Robert Moore guided Stage Kiss at Playhouse San Antonio. Mr. Moore expressed that it has been one of the most enjoyable projects of his career. He was initially inspired by the piece’s backstage eccentricity, and the 1930’s classic-movie feel of Act I. He was hooked once when he realized that the story of “He” and “She” was his own story as well. Shortly, his lead actress, Renee Garvin’s, felt the same way, as did his lead actor, Tyler Keyes. J. Robert explains, “While Stage Kiss is romantic, stylish, heartbreaking, and very funny, it is most of all relatable, not only to those who have set foot on a stage, but to anyone who has wondered what their life might have been like had they followed a different path.” Fueled by Ruhl’s text, he remember laughing on an antique divan and orchestrating a dancing with crutches. He recalls sharing stories of love lives, and exploring the characters’ seemingly zany actions only to find them completely understandable under the circumstances. Moore concluded that, “Ruhl’s mix of theatrical styles challenged us to be fluent in Realism, Fantasy, Melodrama, and Farce. Our company thoroughly enjoyed offering Stage Kiss to audiences. We owe Sarah Ruhl and her quirky tale of love, second chances, and the necessity of both ‘bread and champagne,’ a good deal of thanks for the opportunity to do so.

STAGE KISS. Credit: Siggi Ragnar.

STAGE KISS. Credit: Siggi Ragnar.

Andrew Thornton was the visionary behind The Playhouse San Antonio’s production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone. When he first read the script, he was struck by the comic elements. The more that he and his cast had explored the piece the more depth they found. “Like any poetry, the more you read it, the more it unfolds and reveals to you,” Thornton said. “On the surface, it seems like an eccentric little play.”  Her reiterates that much of Sarah’s work digs deep into the relationships and connections made between us all.  As a performer and director, Mr. Thornton appreciates Sarah Ruhl for imagination and her bravery.

Brook Bassett is set to direct The Clean House at The Modern Theater Coeur d’Alene this coming spring. She mentioned that it is always a joy to have the opportunity to direct, as a woman, a play written by a woman.  She notes that the statistics are clear that women are under represented across the board in theater, therefore, how thrilling to have a script in front of me that is by a woman and has at its very core four fully rounded, emotive and complex female characters… females who are funny, tragic, often wrong, often correct and always essentially human. They interweave in and out of each other’s lives and worldviews with a simplicity that can only be accomplished by reflecting life as it truly is. I am most looking forward to seeing our 4 actress play out their neuroses with sincerity and humor while creating the metaphysical Connecticut that we all have locked away somewhere in our own metaphysical map.

Thank you to the directors for providing their input and feedback regarding the impact and experiences that Sarah has had on them, artists, and patrons.  I, too, have laughed and cried while being an observer to Ruhl’s genius. I am eager to see what challenges and discussions she will create for our future endeavors!

This article was part of our 2016 Samuel French Awards Series, honoring Sarah Ruhl, Keith Josef Adkins of The New Black Fest, and Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond.