The playwright Bess Wohl is always chasing a wild idea — and she’s found that rather than scaring away her collaborators, it just makes them more eager.
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“I started my career thinking, oh, I’ll just write a play that’s really easy to do,” Wohl said on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “I’ll do 2 characters, it’ll be one set, it’ll be very produce-able. What I have learned is that all theater is really hard — even two characters on a single set is really hard to pull off! So why not do the crazy thing that’s in your imagination? I’ve also learned that people [I work with] are really excited by that challenge, and it sort of lifts everybody up to meet it.”
Wohl — who’s written everything from a mostly-wordless play set at a silent retreat (“Small Mouth Sounds”) to a mystery that, for its first half, stars only child actors (“Make Believe”) — is making her Broadway debut with the Second Stage Theater production of “Grand Horizons,” a new comedy with a starry cast led by Jane Alexander and James Cromwell. The show centers on a retired couple that considers getting a divorce after 50 years of marriage, and features a startling staging surprise that feels a lot like one of those crazy ideas that Wohl finds ways to put onstage.
“I’m always interested in what seems impossible,” she explained. “Doing things that haven’t been before, that I haven’t seen before, that I think will either result in something really interesting or a total catastrophe and I’m not really sure which. It often feels like an impulse that I can’t get rid off. A little itch that I really need to scratch.”
Wohl was an actress before she turned to writing, and on Stagecraft she reminisced about how playing a lab technician on “CSI:NY” made her realize that acting wasn’t for her — and also revealed the lasting impact that Sandy Duncan had on her life and career.
New episodes of Stagecraft are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to Stagecraft on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and anywhere that finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.