Mclaughlin, Ellen 1957-
McLAUGHLIN, Ellen 1957-
Born November 9, 1957, in Cambridge, MA; daughter of Charles Capen McLaughlin (a history professor and editor) and Ann Landis (an English professor and novelist); married Ed Hodson, September 21, 1984; Education: Yale University, B.A., 1980. Politics: Socialist. Religion: Agnostic.
Office—417 Barnard Hall, Department of English, Barnard College, 3009 Broadway, New York, NY 10027.
Playwright and actor. Actor, 1980—; scenic artist (freelance), New York, NY, 1980-1984; Juilliard School, New York, NY, Playwright in Residence, 1986-1988; currently teaches playwriting at Barnard College, New York, NY. Also on the board of directors, Theatre Communications Group, 2002—.
Actor's Equity (1985—), New Dramatists (1986—). Also a panel member of New York Foundation for the Arts.
Co-winner, The Great American Play Contest, Actors Theatre of Louisville, 1984, for Days and Nights Within; co-winner, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, 1987, for A Narrow Bed; Berilla Kerr Award for playwriting, Berrilla Kerr Foundation, 2000; recipient of grants from National Endowment for the Arts and Fund for New American Plays, also recipient of Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund writer's award.
Days and Nights Within (play; produced in Louisville, KY), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1985.
A Narrow Bed (play; produced in Louisville, KY; produced Off-Broadway by the New York Theater Workshop), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1988.
Infinity's House (play; produced in Louisville, KY), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1990.
Iphigenia and Other Daughters (play; produced in Los Angeles, CA; produced Off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company), 1995.
Tongue of a Bird (two-act play; produced in Seattle, WA, 1997), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1999.
Helen (two-act play; produced by Public Theater, New York, NY), 2002.
The Persians (play; produced by the National Actors' Theatre, New York, NY), 2003.
Other plays include Duet in a Dark House, Little Kindnesses, Stranger in the Mountain, and The Trojan Women.
Ellen McLaughlin's plays have received widespread national and international acclaim. As Lenora Champagne remarked in American Theatre, McLaughlin "is known for writing plays with strong, independent, complicated women characters." This is evident in Tongue of a Bird, which features an all-female cast. It is the story of Maxine, a search-and-rescue pilot who has been hired to find a missing 12-year-old girl. During the search, Maxine is haunted by visions of her mother, who committed suicide, and of the missing girl. David A. Rosenberg, reviewing for Back Stage the Joseph Papp Public Theater and Mark Taper Forum performance found that "McLaughlin seems only intermittently interested in the niceties of plot or character development." However, he noted the playwright's "undeniable sincerity" and a "desire to plum the depths of shattered souls, and an occasional rich line." Lynn Jacobson, reviewing the Intima Theater production for Variety, called the play a "harsh, sometimes macabre work addressing themes of abandonment, denial, and the nature of evil." While she felt it "is overly schematic, with some of the metaphors so obvious they hold little power," she praised the scene in which the spirit of Maxine's mother describes her final descent into insanity and suicide. Jacobson observed, "through the power of McLaughlin's writing we see how the pain and terror of madness can obliterate even the love of one's own child." Jacobson contended that "this scene, like much of the play, will leave few hearts untouched." Matt Wolf, reviewing the Almeida Theater, London, production of the play for Variety felt that "some may balk at a ripeness to the writing that can turn into Oprahspeak," but praised the ending of the play, which he felt "shows Mclaughlin writes catharsis as well as she writes loss."
McLaughlin has also worked extensively with the classics. As she told Lenora Champagne in an interview for American Theatre, "the Greek plays are poetic dramas, so one has license to exult in language. They are also structurally simple and they plug into fundamental truths and essential archetypes of human existence and suffering." In Helen, a modern-day retelling of the story of Helen of Troy, McLaughlin follows Euripedes' version, in which Helen is taken to Egypt by Hera while a decoy Helen goes to Troy. Charles Isherwood, reviewing the Joseph Papp Public Theater production of the play in Variety branded McLaughlin's version an "impish, inquisitive new riff on the tale." He found the work to be "ambitious," and observed that it is "one part gleefully anachronistic comedy and two parts philosophical rumination on such ageless subjects as the futility of war and the dangers of icon worship." He observed that McLaughlin follows "classical Greek structure, alternating long monologues with dialogues between a small cast of characters," but that the "play doesn't always surmount" the challenges presented by this format. He found the writing to be "rich in sharp, even moving, insights about human folly and the danger of following empty ideologies," but felt that McLaughlin "is also capable of tip-toeing into pretentiousness, and not all of her insights are revelatory." Charles McNulty, reviewed the same production for the Village Voice, and found the work "often brilliant." In comparing the play to Euripedes', he found that "McLaughlin's Helen proves more deeply meditative on the plight of women as objects of beauty, as refugees from men's violence, and as human beings of limited freedom and therefore possibility." He also found that "though static in comparison to the brisk intrigue of the original, McLaughlin's update has an authentic tragic current that compensates for the play's theatrical deficiencies."
McLaughlin's other Greek classics include Iphigenia and Other Daughters, three plays that retell Euripedes' story of Orestes, and Aeschylus' The Persians. She has also acted in film, television, and on stage. Especially noteworthy was her role of Angel in Tony Kushner's Angels in America, which she originated and also played on Broadway.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Theatre, November, 1996, Lenora Champagne, "Ellen McLaughlin: Women in Flight," profile of Ellen McLaughlin, p. 58; March, 1999, Samantha Rachel Rabetz, "Flights of Fancy," interview with Ellen McLaughlin, p. 28.
Back Stage, April 9, 1999, David A. Rosenberg, review of Tongue of a Bird, p. 45; April 26, 2002, Victor Gluck, review of Helen, p. 45.
New York Times, May 21, 1987, Mel Gussow, review of A Narrow Bed.
Variety, October 13, 1997, Lynn Jacobson, review of Tongue of a Bird, p. 186; November 24, 1997, Matt Wolf, review of Tongue of a Bird, p. 75; April 12, 1999, Charles Isherwood, review of Tongue of a Bird, p.70; April 15, 2002, Charles Isherwood, review of Helen, pp. 36-37; June 16, 2003, Charles Isherwood, review of The Persians, p. 35.
Village Voice, April 16, 2002, Charles McNulty, "The Beauty Myth," review of Helen, p. 69.
Theater Communications Group,http://www.tcg.org/ (September 12, 2003), brief biography of Ellen McLaughlin.*