100 Essays

I acted in plays in high school.  I read some big ones.  I've seen fewer.  (And in 8th grade I went to a playwriting workshop with Bob, Lindsay, and Jen G., so I've "written" a one-act play in the course of an afternoon.) I loved reading about plays in Sarah Ruhl's 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater.  I did not know who Sarah Ruhl was before, mind you, but now I'm mildly obsessed and want to read everything she has ever written. Which is also a wonderful feeling! This book sang to me.

I highlighted the shit out of my Kindle edition. Can you please read this book and tell me if you love it, and if you now want to write plays, or see more of them? I've seen one since I read the book!

Some passages I liked:

  • On the language of clear steps, asking "But did clear steps ever make for a good story? (See Hamlet.)" In a later essay: "We need you to fight the mania for clarity and help create a mania for beauty instead."
  • A quote from Maria Irena Fornes, objecting to "the language of intention in the method school of acting": "Who always wants something from someone else? Only criminals. And Americans."
  • One essay is about a fire alarm interrupting a performance, and the actors picking up on the steps of the church they were evacuated from, and the author being transfixed, "remembering that theater is at its roots some very brave people mutually consenting to a make-believe world, with nothing but language to rest on."
  • "Recently, my son said to me after seeing a ballet on television: 'It’s beautiful but I don’t like it.' And I thought, Are many grown-ups capable of such a distinction? It’s beautiful, but I don’t like it. Usually, our grown-up thinking is more along the lines of: I don’t like it, so it’s not beautiful. What would it mean to separate those two impressions for art making and for art criticism?"
  • On reading her diary from when she was twelve. She wrote then that she feared she'd written all her good stuff already. "I am not sure what I thought my literary peak was—possibly my unproduced courtroom drama about landmasses, written in the fourth grade, in which an isthmus spoke. But the point is that even then I seemed concerned about the lack of linear progress in the writing life; that every blank page presented one with the same conundrum, the same terrifying newness, and then, after completion, the downward spiral." 
  • Can we pause here to say that this--the drama, the isthmus--could be the single sentence that makes me want to read all her plays?
  • "Things we used to wait for: the news, mercury in a thermometer to rise, letters from overseas, boats to come in from whaling expeditions, the fifth act, the fifth course, a turkey to roast in the oven, a pig to roast on a spit, the phone to ring, a tape to rewind, bread to rise, tea to brew, grapes to ferment"
  • "Perhaps having children makes one increasingly distrust the symbolic world. Because suddenly nothing is as important as the very real particular."
  • The final essay focuses on community theater. "I was affected by seeing work born of people I was related to or knew casually." And "what I mean to say is the productions that have had the biggest impact on me—have ferreted their way into the most porous, childlike parts of me, winnowed in, and stayed there—have also been the smallest in scale."

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