Dig the New Breed

After her middle-school triumph, Treem received a B.A., an M.F.A., and a postgraduate fellowship, all from Yale. A Feminine Ending, which centers on a young female composer, will mark her first New York production. Upon learning that Sanford had scheduled A Feminine Ending alongside the season's other offerings, Treem says she felt "really, really lucky. If someone had asked me who my favorite writers are, they're in the season. I think Jordan Harrison's incredible, Sarah Ruhl absolutely. Rinne Groff, Adam Bock. I'm not quite sure what I did to deserve this."

What she did was to craft a forthrightly feminist play, which explores the challenges facing young women. Treem says that once out of drama school, she realized that "women and men weren't being given the same opportunities, and they weren't being looked at in the same way. But there was no way to talk about it. Bringing it up was somehow to victimize myself or be perceived as whiny. . . . So that's why I started writing the play, because I was looking for a way to talk about it." You certainly couldn't call the play whiny, nor does it offer simple prescriptions. In fact, Treem scrapped an earlier, more simplistic ending and went for one "much more ambiguous and much scarier and much more honest."

Act III

A used bookstore-cum-café in Soho. Dust, bricks, scones, shelf after shelf of art books and paperbacks. Jordan Harrison, 30, wearing a gray T-shirt adorned with a cartoon of a motorcycle, perches on a window. Voluble from caffeine, he details his relationship with Playwrights Horizons, a long one, which dates back to his fresh-from-Stanford internship in their literary department. He read hundreds of scripts and credits that experience with beginning his theater education. He also recalls "buying the wrong kind of bagels for the cast of the first reading I worked on. I got all plain bagels—being new to New York, the idea of a garlic bagel in the morning was odd—and my boss wasn't pleased. She said, 'This is going to be your legacy!' So, I'm glad to have another legacy there now."

Doris to Darlene: A Cautionary Valentine is no plain bagel. Rather, it's a formally virtuosic work, which skips from the 1860s of Wagner to the 1960s of girl groups to the present day, intertwining the lives of various characters. "The two kinds of music I loved the most as a teenager were early-'60s girl groups and opera" says Harrison. "I had a behind-closed-doors/I-wouldn't-buy-it-in-a-record-store embarrassed love." In Harrison's romance, music functions as "both the sickness and the cure"—like love, it proves both destructive and redemptive.

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Jordan Harrison
Fiona Aboud
Harrison feels especially pleased to share a season with some of the same playwrights whose work he read and loved as an intern. "They're not just my peers," he says. "They're people who—I'm trying to avoid sounding cheesy—people who give me hope about calling myself a writer. A whole season of relatively new voices suggests that people are starting to think about what we do as not necessarily eccentric or quirky, but a legitimate way of looking at the world."

Act IV

A Belgian restaurant on the East Side. Gleaming floors and Tin Tin posters. Sarah Ruhl, 33, enters in a summery blouse. She places an order for lemonade and French fries, which she amiably offers to share. Easily the best-known playwright on the season's roster, Ruhl's work has earned highly polarized responses from New York critics. Recent productions of The Clean House and Eurydice have received notices ranging from the ecstatic to the vitriolic, though they've generally delighted audiences.

Her plays demand a great emotional involvement on the part of the viewer. Ruhl says that "when I go to the theater, I want the heart and the mind to be fully engaged. Sometimes I feel like there's a shellac over contemporary American theater where I feel at an arm's distance from it. The actors don't feel entirely open or present, and I don't feel aware I'm in a room with other people—and that's not what I'm aiming for." Dead Man's Cellphone stages that desire for connectedness. It follows a lonely young woman who pockets the cell phone of a deceased café-mate and attempts to forge ties with his family. It also includes a positively Dalí-esque "cell-phone ballet." Ruhl says she began the play out of a sense of "not feeling at home in this particular time period and feeling like emotionally, psychologically, culturally we haven't caught up to this amazing, strange technological universe we're in. I had this sense that people were less present—they were always engaged in the culture of the instant."

While Ruhl describes the upcoming season as "wonderful," she wouldn't like to see Playwrights Horizons commit itself to new writers entirely. Indeed, she finds it problematic that in contemporary theater, "there's a half-life of a playwright, you reach a certain age and you're done. . . . That disturbs me as much as the thought that there's an old-boys network. Because I want to evolve."

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Sarah Ruhl
Fiona Aboud
Epilogue
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