sarah ruhl in the new yorker
i know i’m so behind on posting relevant information on upcoming shows, etc. etc. i’m just slipping a little and also working on a longer essay. and also i’m easily distracted. i loved this article on Sarah Ruhl, though. I wish I’d seen Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Darn it. But I think the article adds to the discussion on “realist whimsy” and adds a depth of insight into this Ruhl/Schwartz/Kosmas debate (I know you can’t lump them together, but for the sake of argument) about language playwrights.
But if Ruhl’s demeanor is unassuming, her plays are bold. Her nonlinear form of realism—full of astonishments, surprises, and mysteries—is low on exposition and psychology. “I try to interpret how people subjectively experience life,” she has said. “Everyone has a great, horrible opera inside him. I feel that my plays, in a way, are very old-fashioned. They’re pre-Freudian in the sense that the Greeks and Shakespeare worked with similar assumptions. Catharsis isn’t a wound being excavated from childhood.”
Ruhl’s theatre aspires to reclaim the audience’s atrophied imagination. “Now, some people consume imagination, and some people do the imagining,” she said. “I find it very worrisome. That should be one thing that people know they can do.” Ruhl writes with space, sound, and image as well as words.
In Ruhl’s plays, turbulent feeling can erupt at any moment, for no apparent reason; actors are challenged to inhabit the emotional moment without motivation. Sometimes, during rehearsal, an anxious actor will approach Ruhl to try and pin down the role. She thinks to herself, “Oh, come on, just ride it.” She told me, “I prefer an actor who says, ‘My character doesn’t have a backstory, so I won’t concoct one. I will live as fully in every moment as I can. I will let the language move me, as opposed to a secret backstory of my own.” She likes her actors to have “a sense of irony,” and to be “touched with a little brush of the irrational.”
Read the article in its entirety here.