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BWW Interview: Playwright Deborah Rennard and FOR WORSE at NJ Rep 3/10 TO 4/10

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will be presenting the World Premiere comedy For Worse by Deborah Rennard directed by Evan Bergman. The show will have a limited engagement on the Long Branch stage from March 10th through April 10th. The cast includes Ed Kershen, Kristin Griffith, Daniela Mastropietro and Angie Tennant. Broadwayworld.com interviewed playwright Deborah Rennard about her career and the show.

In For Worse, three decades of marriage and three daughters later Peter has an epiphany and informs his wife that he is in love with another woman whom he has been having an affair with for the past three years. He assumes his wife will leave, but she doesn't, and to make matters worse his girlfriend gives him an ultimatum. Peter's choices in life are put to the test as he questions the meaning of love, friendship and betrayal.

Deborah Rennard played "Sly", JR's secretary, on the hit TV show, Dallas, for ten years. She also starred in the cult favorite, Lionheart, with Jean Claude Van Damme. In 1991 she co-wrote an episode of Due South for CBS, and co-produced the highly acclaimed TV series EZ Streets with her then husband, Paul Haggis, also for CBS. In 2006, she co-produced Warner Independent's, In the Valley of Elah, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron, for which Mr. Jones received an Oscar nomination. In 2008 her first play, Enough was optioned Off-Broadway. In 2012, her second play, For Worse, was read at NYSAF, at MTC in 2013 and at NJ Rep in 2014. In 2013 she also co-produced 3rd Person, starring Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis, and James Franco. She spends most of her time writing and producing, but did a small cameo as "Poodle Lady" on HBO's Show me a Hero last year. She loves to sing, and for the last few years, has been doing a singing duet act at various charity events and opening for comedians at Catch a Rising Star clubs.

What was your earliest interest in the performing arts?

My first interest in performing was putting together puppet shows with my sister, and some of our friends, for younger kids in our neighborhood. However, we were more interested in turning a profit than producing a good show, we didn't have the discipline to actually write and rehearse anything. So, unfortunately most of our "performances" ended with us running down the street holding onto the "box office take", a tin can full of nickels, while a pack of five and six year olds pursued us trying to get their money back! I sincerely hope that doesn't happen with this show.

I also took weekly dance lessons, tap and ballet, every Saturday morning from the age of 3 to about 13. Every year the studio I studied at held a big dance recital. I learned that was the reward for getting up early on Saturday mornings, and having to leave slumber parties to trudge off to dance class. Being onstage was magical, and I loved every minute of it.

Tell us a little about where you grew up and your education.

I lived in Venice, California, as a young child. In the middle of the 3rd grade, my family moved us to Pacific Palisades, California, a lovely small town overlooking the Pacific ocean. I went to school locally, graduated from Palisades ("Pali") High School. It was at Pali High that I fell in love with musicals and determined that what I wanted to do most in life was to sing, dance, and act in them. I went on to UCLA. I was very focused on an acting career and began working professionally at the age of 17 doing national commercials and small television roles. At 20 I landed the role of "Sly", JR's secretary on "Dallas", where I stayed for a decade. Unfortunately, I never made it to Broadway as a performer, but I hope to make it there as a playwright. And since NJ Rep is located on "Broadway", I am taking that as a good sign!

Have you had any important mentors?

I have had many teachers that were influential to me in my life, but my biggest mentor has been, and still is, my ex-husband, Paul Haggis. He is a two-time Academy award winning filmmaker. We have worked together since we met 24 years ago. I would never have had the courage to start writing on my own, or the tenacity to keep at it, if it weren't for everything I have learned from him.

What performances have inspired you?

There are two performances I was fortunate enough to see live in the theater that will stay with me my whole life. The first was John Malkovich in, "Burn This", and the second was Alan Rickman in, "Les Liaisons Dangereuse". They were unbelievably powerful and electrifying.

How has your performance career enhanced your role as a writer and producer?

Coming at writing from an acting background definitely helps. After doing the hard work of plotting out a story, I imagine myself playing the various characters and just improvise in my head what I think they would say. I have heard that actors, or ex-actors, have a leg up on other writers when it comes to writing dialogue. Similarly, with producing it really helps to have a background in acting when you are casting or working on a set or sitting in the editing room. You find you have a sort of short cut in understanding how to work with the actors or the director, you speak the same language.

We'd love to know your inspiration for your play, FOR WORSE?

Several of my girlfriends were going through break-ups in their marriages, and I realized I had definite opinions about what they should be doing, how they should be acting etc. Then it happened to me. I went through a separation with my husband, and it struck me how easy it is for other people to write off your marriage for you, but how much harder it is to let go if it's yours. So that got me thinking. I wanted to write a play that explored things in a marriage that I had never seen explored before in a play. And I wanted to do it in a comedic way, because I think laughter is so important, and that if we can get to the place where we can laugh about a situation, we are much more able to change it.

How do you like working with NJ Rep?

Suzanne and Gabe are wonderful people. I really admire them for creating this lovely haven for artists, where new plays can be introduced and developed. There are very few people doing what they are doing. And they have been doing it for such a long time, that they have the experience and expertise to make what is very difficult, look easy. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working with them, and thrilled that the world premier of my very first play will be at their theater!

Anything else/absolutely anything you want Broadwayworld.com readers to know!

I started writing plays at the age of 50. And I'm a woman. Most people would say that's pretty crazy. But I felt I had something to say, and that if I said it well enough, people might actually listen. It's never too late. If you're still breathing, and you want to do something, do it. You have nothing to lose by trying. In fact, thinking that was very helpful to me. Every time I sat down to write I would think, it's okay if everything I write sucks, because no one expects me to be any good anyway. Therefore, whatever happens, I am no worse off than if I never wrote anything at all. People say you should raise your expectations, but actually, lowering them worked for me!

For Worse sneak preview performances begin Thursday, March 10 with opening night Saturday, March 12 at New Jersey Repertory Company (179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ), and will run through Sunday, April 10, 2016. Tickets may be purchased by calling 732-229-3166 or at www.njrep.org.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of NJ Rep


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