Hometown: Amherst, Massachusetts.
Current Town: Brooklyn, New York.
Q: Please tell me a bit about your show at Clubbed Thumb.
A: The play, Precious Little, is about a linguist who, in her early forties, decides to have a baby on her own and discovers through prenatal testing that the child may have a genetic abnormality. Through her encounters with an odd bunch of confidants (younger girlfriend, elderly speaker of a dying language, gorilla at the zoo) she tries to figure out whether she can deal with having a child who might never speak to her. It's a play about the limits but also the luxuries of language, about what we cherish about our uniquely human capacity for language as well as what it costs us to communicate in this way.
Q: If I remember correctly you were one of those people who was in a playwriting program in high school. What was that like and how did it affect your later playwriting?
A: I had the good fortune to participate in the Young Playwrights Festival when I was 17 and again when I was 18 years old. It was crazy to be produced Off-Broadway at that age, thrilling and destabilizing and I think a little warping--they put me up in the Chelsea loft of a pair of corporate lawyers who worked 20-hour days and were rarely home, so I would wake up every morning in this giant, off-the-hook beautiful apartment, stroll down the block for coffee and muffins, lie around the cavernous living room reading the Times and waiting to wander over to rehearsal, work on my play all afternoon and watch Mystery Science Theater and Beavis and Butthead with my fellow kid playwrights all night. Obviously it's been something of an adjustment growing into the realities of the profession since then. But I wouldn't trade the experience--it was an extraordinary first encounter with New York theater.
Q: You are also one of the members of 13P. When does your show come up? What kind of experience has it been to be part of an organization of playwrights producing playwrights?
A: My heart is full of love for 13P. I love being part of a group of writers whose work I admire, love to contribute to productions whose success ripples out to benefit more than just the people immediately involved in each show, love watching plays that might not otherwise reach the stage emerge fully formed out of a mist of eagerness, labor, and an Equity showcase budget. One of my favorite kinds of people is the Extremely Competent and Pragmatic Theater Person, the young producer or development associate or technical director or general manager who can anticipate any problem, fix any broken thing, handle any crisis. I'm emphatically not this kind of person, but I love to be around them--it calms me on a deep level--and 13P's all-volunteer staff is full of them, so even our staff and productions meetings are totally delightful to me. Next up for us is P#8, Lucy Thurber's Monstrosity, in July 2009, then P#9, Julia Jarcho's play American Treasure, in November 2009. My 13P show comes up in spring 2010, pending money, and then it's Sarah Ruhl, Young Jean Lee, Erin Courtney, and we're done. If people are curious to find out more, they could take a look at 13P's lovely new website: http://13p.org/
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: My two favorite things to do at the theater are weep and think, preferably simultaneously. I like plays that take as given the notion that thinking and feeling arise from the same impulse and are inextricably intertwined--Wallace Shawn, Tom Stoppard, Suzan-Lori Parks, Anne Washburn, Rob Handel, Dan LeFranc, etc. etc. etc. Also I've been thinking lately about the expansive, beautiful things farce can do--I recently saw all three plays of Ayckbourn's Norman Conquests trilogy in a single day and it was perhaps the most mind-bendingly joyful theatrical experience of my life.
Q: Your day job is writing young adult novels, one of the more interesting, (I would think) day jobs a playwright could have. How do you think that affects your playwriting, if at all?
A: Actually, "day job" is stretching it a little for my relationship to YA novels--it's more like a long-term side experiment in a different genre (my real day job is running a college program in a prison). But I highly recommend it for playwrights who are curious to work in fiction--first of all it's one of the only areas of the publishing world that isn't totally going under, at least so far, and second of all it's a flexible form, heightened and somehow inherently melodramatic, like adolescence itself, which makes it ideal for dramatic writers. I've found it educational to work out novel-length story problems in my books--we'll see in the long run what impact that experiment has on my playwriting.
Here is one of Madeleine's books.
Q: Where can people go to buy tickets for your show?