Arts and Entertainment

A playwright first

Award-winning playwright Theresa Rebeck will speak at WICA in Langley.   - Photo courtesy of WICA
Award-winning playwright Theresa Rebeck will speak at WICA in Langley.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of WICA

The live play is one of the more raw and exposed of art forms.

To make one’s living as a playwright is no easy feat. Not only does the American playwright have to contend with the precariousness of a not-such-a-sure-bet career, but also has to take the deep-seated emotions conjured in part by one’s own experiences and flail them onto the blank page of a stage for a director and some actors to do with what they will.

It’s sort of like ripping out your heart and offering it up as a main course to the world and its critics.

Fascinating, then, will be to hear what one such brave soul has to say about actually having become a playwright in this country, and has lived to tell about it.

The Hedgebrook/WICA Literary Series presents Theresa Rebeck, a multi-dimensional talent whose written works include all mediums from television, film, theater and books. She will be welcomed at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3.

Local actors will perform scenes from some of Rebeck’s Broadway and off-Broadway plays. She will also read from her novel, “Three Girls and Their Brother,” as well as her second novel, which is scheduled for release in May.

As a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, Rebeck continues to shine as a widely produced and respected literary talent in the United States and abroad.

But she sees herself as a playwright first, which satisfies her need to make sense of one’s place in the world.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about America, who we are as a people and a culture and a nation, and I have always felt that the theater is a truly appropriate place to examine these issues, the way David Hare examines what it means to be British, or Brian Friel examines what it means to be Irish,” Rebeck said.

Rebeck’s plays are among those that make the rounds in the best New York theaters, such as her award-winning play “Mauritius” that was produced at the Biltmore Theatre, or “The Family of Mann” that ran at the Second Stage Theatre, and for which she won the National Theatre Conference Award. “Omnium Gatherum,” which she co-wrote, was a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize and was featured at the acclaimed Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky.

Her most recent play, “The Understudy,” made its New York premier in 2009 at the Laura Pels Theatre, a production of the well-known Roundabout Theatre Company. And “Our House” was also seen last year at Playwrights Horizon, another venue to which all would-be playwrights aspire.

Plays are multi-layered affairs peppered with complex characters and text, subtext and the spaces in-between. It makes sense that their authors are as complicated as their work.

“I am a woman, I am an American, I am a mother,” Rebeck said.

“I sometimes write for television, and I sometimes write movies; I play the piano, I knit, I rail at the universe; I am angry, I am sad; I am a comic realist, a misanthrope, and an idealist. There are many ways to categorize me, and my work. But for myself, I would most like to be considered a playwright.”

Although she is first and foremost a playwright, Rebeck has had an extensive career writing for television and film.

For television, she has written for “Dream On,” “Brooklyn Bridge,” “L.A. Law,” “American Dreamer,” “Maximum Bob,” “First Wave” and “Third Watch.” She has been a writer/producer for “Canterbury’s Law,” “Smith,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and “NYPD Blue.” Her produced feature films include “Harriet the Spy,” “Gossip,” and the independent feature, “Sunday on the Rocks.”

But, ultimately, it is her plays for which she has grabbed the spotlight and shouted her piece.

In an introduction to a collection of Rebeck plays titled “The Butterfly Collection,” Seattle dramaturg Christine Sumption speaks of Rebeck as a “revelation” after reading “The Assistant,” the first of many of Rebeck plays she would eventually read. Sumption sums up the playwright’s work this way: “Her characters are human beings with all that makes them human. Whether it’s a character whose wit and charm we’d all like to possess (like Haley in ‘Bad Dates’), someone who forces us to face our own dark potential (like Helen in ‘The Water’s Edge’), or one who actively courts self-destruction (like Charlie in ‘The Scene’), Rebeck’s characters get under the skin. Their passions, their tenderness, their rage, their weaknesses, their joys become our own.”

In other words, Rebeck knows how to throw her heart onstage and make it entertaining.

Tickets to this special event are $5 general seating. (Note the earlier 7 p.m. start.) For tickets, call 221-8268 or 800-638-7631.

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