With Sarah Ruhl‘s play “The Clean House” opening Oct. 30 at Lincoln Center, it’s tempting to ask: What took so long?
The play and its scribe, who recently scored a $500,000 “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, have been buzzed about ever since the work preemed in New Haven, Conn., in 2004. Since then, the show has been staged in Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, San Fran and Washington, D.C. “Clean House” won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2004 and was a Pulitzer nominee last year.
You’d think the show’s long day’s journey into New York points to a split between the rest of the country and Gotham, where legiters have a rep for city-centric parochialism.
Not so, Ruhl says.
The time lag, she explains, was actually the result of waiting for the right space for the project. Other New York nonprofits (such as Manhattan Theater Club) were interested, but only Lincoln Center had a venue with a high enough ceiling to accommodate the balcony that figures prominently in the play’s second act.
And Andre Bishop, a.d. of LCT, had programmed his seasons two years out. So “House” waited for an open slot.
Still, Ruhl certainly has experienced the frustration caused by the legit trend toward endless developmental work, a drawn-out process that sometimes never results in a full production of the developing play.
“Eurydice,” her well-reviewed show that recently opened at Yale Rep, had 14 staged readings around the country before its first full production.
“That happens a lot,” Ruhl says. “It’s an awful feeling for a playwright. It makes me think that often when a theater doesn’t want to do your work, they’ll program you for a reading.”
Those kinds of setbacks, at least, seem less likely to happen to the newly minted MacArthur fellow.
Her next production, set for June at D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth, is “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” about a woman who answers the phone of a recently deceased man to comfort the bereaved callers.
Before that, she’ll be workshopping “The Passion Play” (which premiered last year at D.C.’s Arena Stage) with helmer Mark Wing-Davey in December, with an eye toward a possible production at the Goodman in Chicago. And plans are afoot to bring “Eurydice” to Gotham in the near future. (A New York Times rave for the Yale Rep production doubtless will expedite its arrival.)
In addition, Ruhl is working on a new script about the invention of the vibrator. She’s hoping her cool half-mil will help carve out the time to hunker down to work on it.
“I’m dying to retreat back to my little hermit’s cave,” she says.
Rapidly rising London theater the Menier Chocolate Factory has officially joined forces with the producers of the Gotham incarnation of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” Dena Hammerstein and Pam Pariseau of James Hammerstein Prods.
But don’t call it a first-look deal.
“It’s not a first-look deal, and it’s not a blind donation,” says David Babani, the Chocolate Factory founder whose brief tenure already has included two West End transfers, “Fully Committed” and “Sunday in the Park With George,” since the theater opened in 2004.
“It’s a global deal for a year to be tied to the Chocolate Factory,” he explains. “It’s a commitment to develop projects together, and it will help us take more risks on some shows than we normally would.”
Hammerstein and Pariseau are associate producers on the West End transfer of “Sunday in the Park,” the first professional collaboration between the two entities.
“It seemed natural for the conversation to get broader,” says Hammerstein. “I hope we can take projects to him and he can bring projects to us.”
They also hope to be involved in the brewing Broadway transfer of “Sunday in the Park,” which looks likely to be recast with American actors save for the two leads, Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell — although confirmed plans and details for the potential transfer are still being ironed out.
Given the size of the Chocolate Factory (160-180 seats, depending on the configuration for each show), some projects will be eyed for transfers to Off Broadway as well.
For now, though, nothing is set on the Chocolate Factory slate following a winter production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
For that show, an entirely new design is in the works for the tuner’s giant man-eating plant, usually depicted (as it was in the 2003 Broadway revival) as something like a talking cabbage.
“We’ve gone right back to nature, basing it on carnivorous plants,” he says of the pricey new Audrey II, provided by Brit SFX firm Artem. “It’s a cross between a Venus flytrap and a pitcher plant.”