Sarah Ruhl Presents Chamber Version of MELANCHOLY PLAY, Now thru 7/27
13P, the innovative collective of 13 playwrights, is about to culminate the mission it set forth upon its founding in 2003: to produce one play by each of its members. Pulitzer Finalist, TONY Award nominee and MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship recipient Sarah Ruhl (P#13) is creating a new, chamber version of her Melancholy Play (2001) with the composer Todd Almond and Davis McCallum, who directed a version of the work in 2002.
In the play, Tilly is beautiful and melancholy. Everyone she meets falls in love with her. Then one day she is suddenly happy-and things get very strange. An unexpected story of melancholy in a post-pharmaceutical world, Melancholy Play is an irrational play with a highly rational string quartet.
The work will make its world premiere tonight, July 18 through July 27 at the Invisible Dog Art Center (51 Bergen Street, Brooklyn). It will not open for review. Performances take place tonight, July 18 and July 22, 26 and 27 at 7:00 P.M., with additional 9:00 P.M. performances on July 20, 21, 26 and 27. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by visiting www.13p.org or calling 212.352.3101.
In 2003, concerned that the trend of endless readings and development programs was limiting the texture and ambition of new American plays, 13 midcareer playwrights banded together to try different model. Each playwright would serve as Artistic Director as the company-deciding the goals of the project, designing its process, and choosing collaborators-as it realized a full production of his/her play. The collective devised a sequence of productions in advance: Anne Washburn would be P#1, Winter Miller P#2, etc. After those 13 productions, the organization would disband.
Now, 12 productions later, 13P has garnered numerous awards and much acclaim. Its ImPlosion Season began with the world premiere of A Map of Virtue, for which Erin Courtney (P#12) and director Ken Rus Schmoll just won an OBIE. (Last season, We're Gonna Die, by Young Jean Lee (P#11), also received an OBIE. The company, too, has won an OBIE (in 2005), in addition to a sizable grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and other accolades.)
Ruhl decided to use her turn at the helm to revisit Melancholy Play after meeting the extraordinary Todd Almond, who had a vision of the play as almost entirely sung through with a string quartet. Although she has written plays with music before, she has never written a musical. Melancholy Play was always structurally a chamber piece, so she felt it made sense to go from a single cello (the play's first version) to an entire string quartet (this new version). Ruhl says, "There is something wonderful to me about the contrast between the rational mathematics of a string quartet and the irrationality of this particular play world."
Of producing the play with 13P, she says, "I am thrilled to finally be Artistic Director after a long ten years of waiting and watching my colleagues' plays with intense pleasure and admiration. While I am saddened by our coming implosion, I am happy to be part of celebrating a decade of anarchistic, loving consensus and art-making. I was at the first meeting of our little band at Veselka's over ten years ago, and it amazes me that the organization has run on so much good-will and so much volunteer work, and I do think we have changed the concept of development with our humble experiment. 13P's mission, I think, is to be unafraid of failure, and to attempt to give pleasure without a lot of fuss. I am proud to be the last artistic director in our anti-royalist dynasty, and I hope that new bands of younger playwrights fill in the breach after we close shop."
Of being Artistic Director, she reflects, "It is quite wonderful to be in a process that puts the means of production squarely in the hands of the writer, and it gives me great compassion and gratitude for every Artistic Director I've ever worked with, as I call my daughter's violin teacher and ask if she'd play first violin, or as I scratch my head looking at curious and often intractably untransformational objects like calendars and budgets."
Working with Casting Director Kelly Gillespie, Ruhl and McCallum have selected the actors David Greenspan, Erik Lochtefeld, April Matthis, Sarah Tolan-Mee and Amy Warren. Jason Simms is the Set Designer, Anita Yavich the Costume Designer, Darron L. West the Sound Designer and Danny Mefford the Choregrapher. Annah Feinberg is serving as Associate Producer.
13P's ImPlosion Season also includes A People's History of 13P, an oral history video archive that documents the experiences and challenges the playwrights have faced in their time together. This archive will exist at 13P.org and will include filmed interviews with the playwrights, collaborators and supporters who have championed this new model for a decade.
The season will conclude with the ImPlosion Party, a blowout bash. Date, location and others details will be announced soon.
Ruhl's most recent play, Stage Kiss, had its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2011. Her plays include In The Next Room, or the Vibrator Play (Glickman Prize, finalist for Pulitzer Prize, 2010, Tony Nomination Best Play), The Clean House (Susan Smith Blackburn award, 2004, finalist for Pulitzer Prize, 2005), Dead Man's Cell Phone (Helen Hayes award for best new play), Demeter in the City (nominated for 9 NAACP awards), Eurydice, Melancholy Play, Orlando, a new version of Chekhov's Three Sisters, and Passion Play (Kennedy Center Fourth Forum Freedom Award). Her plays have premiered at the Lyceum Theater on Broadway, produced by Lincoln Center Theater; Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater, Playwrights' Horizons, and Second Stage; and regionally at Berkeley Repertory Theater, Yale Repertory Theater, the Goodman Theater, Cornerstone Theater, Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth, Cincinnati Playhouse, and the Piven Theater Workshop in Chicago, as well being produced at many other theaters across the country. Her plays have also been performed in England, Poland, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, and Australia, and have been translated into Spanish, German, Polish, Russian, Korean and Arabic. Sarah received her M.F.A. from Brown University, where she studied with Paula Vogel, and is originally from Chicago. In 2003, she was the recipient of a Helen Merrill award and a Whiting Writers award, a PEN/Laura Pels award, and in 2006 was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. Her work is published by TCG and Samuel French, and she is a member of New Dramatists. She lives in New York City with her family.
Todd Almond is a composer and lyricist. His musicals include We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Yale Repertory Theater, with playwright Adam Bock, dir: Anne Kauffman), On the Levee (Lincoln Center Theater, with playwright Marcus Gardley, dir: Lear deBessonet); Girlfriend (Berkeley Rep., with songwriter Matthew Sweet, dir: Les Waters); Odyssey (The Old Globe, dir: Lear deBessonet). His new musical, Iowa, written with Jenny Schwartz, is the recipient of the 2012 Frederick Loewe Award. Almond is currently creating a new show with actress/writer Sherie Rene Scott, he regularly performs his own material in NYC and he recently released an album of original songs entitled Mexico City.
Davis McCallum recently directed the world premiere of Gabriel Kahane and Seth Bockley's February House at The Public Theater. Other recent projects include Quiara Hudes' Water By The Spoonful at Hartford Stage Company (2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama); Molly Smith Metzler's Elemeno Pea at the Humana Festival at Actors Theater of Louisville; and Sam Hunter's A Bright New Boise for Partial Comfort (Drama Desk Nominations for Best Play and Best Director). Upcoming: Sam Hunter's The Whale at Playwrights Horizons.
The 13 playwrights of 13P are Sheila Callaghan, Erin Courtney, Madeleine George, Rob Handel, Ann Marie Healy, Julia Jarcho, Young Jean Lee, Winter Miller, Sarah Ruhl, Kate E. Ryan, Lucy Thurber, Anne Washburn, and Gary Winter.
Together, the collective would realize a full production of a new play by each of its members. The resources of the company have been placed at the disposal of the playwright at work, who has served as the company's artistic director during the production of her play.
At their first gathering in fall 2003, they chose the order of their 13 productions. The process for each production begins with a meeting between the playwright, executive producer, and managing director. The playwright is asked to dream out loud about her ideal venue, director, cast, and other collaborators for the play. 13P orients itself around each playwright within the framework: The artistic director takes full artistic responsibility for the company during her tenure, and they make every effort to realize the playwright's wishes.
Photo credit: Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.