Last Thursday, the Center for the Arts and Theater Department sponsored a lecture in Memorial Chapel by renowned playwright Sarah Ruhl, recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and 2005 Pulitzer Prize Finalist. Ruhl read from her soon-to-be published collection of short essays (150-300 words each) addressing diverse aspects of the theater world, called “Fifty Nine Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write.”
The title is an allusion to the fact that besides continuing to produce new work (her most recent play, “In The Next Room, (or The Vibrator Play)” was nominated for three 2010 Tony awards), Ruhl also has three children under the age of five at home. She shared excerpts focusing on a variety of issues, from the significance of umbrellas onstage to whether or not characters in plays should have last names. My personal favorite was entitled “On Sleeping In The Theater.” In this essay, Ruhl provides a fresh view of the age old faux pas of falling asleep while watching a play. As a student who has experienced devastating guilt after growing bleary-eyed during a performance (sometimes you were up late the night before finishing a paper, O.K.?), her vision of putting on a play during which audiences were meant to fall asleep sounded like magic. She described a performance in which the auditorium would be filled with beds, and as the curtain rose spectators would fall deeply asleep. If they awoke at all during the show, they would groggily observe bizarre happenings on the stage (her example was a dancing elephant) before falling asleep again, the dream on the stage mixing with the dreams in their heads. “No one would feel guilty and no one would blame me [for writing a dull play], because they were supposed to fall asleep,” Ruhl mused.
Although she spoke for only about 40 minutes, she presented 17 of her essays, each a flash of witty insight into the state of modern theater and ruminations on the possibilities the stage holds. When she concluded her final reading, entitled “Reading Aloud” (during which Ruhl posited, “In theater we ask adults to be children again, to sit in a circle and be read to”), she received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd, composed of both University students and outside visitors.
Ruhl’s visit was choreographed to coincide with the upcoming presentation of her 2001 work “Melancholy Play,” which is being produced by the University’s Theater Department Feb. 24-26 on the CFA Stage. The Los Angeles Times said of the play, “[It] is slight, deliberately silly and verging at times on precious. It’s an exercise in zaniness … there’s sweet delight in the theatrical moment.” The University’s rendition of the show is being directing by Visiting Artist Michael Rau ’05.