Ruhl, Sarah 1974(?)-
RUHL, Sarah 1974(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1974. Education: Brown University, M.F.A.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Bret Adams, Ltd., 448 W. 44th St., New York, NY 10036.
CAREER: Playwright and teacher. Former resident artist at Millay Colony, Ragdale Foundation, and Ucross Foundation; member, New Dramatists.
AWARDS, HONORS: Helen Merrill Award, 2003; Whiting Writers' Award, Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, 2003; Susan Smith Blackburn Award for best play of the year in English by a woman writer, 2005, for The Clean House.
Virtual Meditation Number One, produced in Louisville, KY, 2001.
The Clean House, produced in New York, NY, 2003.
Eurydice, produced in Madison, WI, 2003.
Melancholy Play, produced at Princeton University, 2003.
Also author of Late: A Cowboy Song, Orlando, and Passion Play.
SIDELIGHTS: Sarah Ruhl is a teacher and playwright whose works have been staged in locations such as New York's Playwrights Horizons, the Echo Theatre Company in Los Angeles, and the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston, Illinois. The winner of a number of prizes, including a Whiting Writers' award, Ruhl has been commissioned to write several works for national performance.
Ruhl's 2003 play, The Clean House, is a "fast-moving play [that] takes the simple tasks of housecleaning and joke-telling and gives them transcendental levels of meaning," remarked Frank Rizzo in the Daily Variety. The play features Mathilda, a Brazilian maid hired by a pair of doctors: stressed-out workaholic Lane and her surgeon husband, Charles. Mathilda's calling in life is not cleaning, but comedy. Rather than dusting or vacuuming, which makes her decidedly unhappy, she would prefer to embrace life with the joy experienced by her parents while she continues her perpetual search for the perfect joke. Mathilda's joie de vivre, however, soon leads to the exposure of dysfunction in the lives of her outwardly impeccable professional employers. Lane dislikes conflict with the maid and struggles with the class boundaries of employer-employee. Her attention focuses more on professional obligations than domestic ones, such as her husband. Virginia, Charles's sister who loves to clean, suggests to Mathilda that she take the maid's place in secret, thus allowing Virginia to do something she loves while granting Mathilda the freedom to pursue her beloved jokes. Meanwhile, Charles leaves the beautiful but distant Lane for a vivacious patient on whom he had recently performed a mastectomy.
"Idealized life crashes up against reality; moral codes are overwhelmed by the heart's sometimes hurtful impulses; the search for fulfillment is stoked—and stilled—by awareness of mortality," summarized Daryl H. Miller in a Los Angeles Times review of The Clean House. The play "starts out as a mildly amusing take on America's haves and have nots, but soon veers into quirky territory," remarked Ed Siegel in the Boston Globe. Los Angeles Times contributor Karen Wada, in a profile of Ruhl, called The Clean House "a quirky, emotionally resonant comedy that has made her one of this season's hottest playwrights."
Ruhl's Eurydice offers a new approach to the classic tale of love and the underworld. Orpheus and Eurydice cultivate their bubbling, youthful romance and seem blissfully happy with each other. Still, Orpheus cannot help but be a little controlling, and Eurydice seems willing to go along with it because, of course, Orpheus knows best. The high mood of their wedding is dampened by thoughts of Eurydice's recently deceased father, though the man gladly watches his daughter's nuptials from his new home in the afterlife. When she steps out for a break during her reception, Eurydice is approached by a dark stranger who tells her she needs a real man, and who offers a letter of reference from her departed father as enticement to his elegant penthouse. The stranger who accosts her, of course, turns out to be the Lord of the Underworld. Fleeing the menacing stranger, Eurydice falls headlong into the underworld, where she forgets all about her previous life and even fails to recognize her beloved father. Her father, however, is unwilling to let her wander forever through the bleak realm, and so he works to restore his daughter's memories of Orpheus and her life in the mortal world. The Lord of the Underworld and his minions, including a chorus of stones, attempt to thwart these plans until Orpheus makes his fabled descent in search of his lost love. As in the original, their ascent from the Underworld is doomed.
The play's "stygian setting has prompted Ruhl to get devilishly clever," said Jeremy Harrell in an American Theatre assessment. Hades, Lord of the Underworld, is a temperamental boy on a tricycle, ruling with a combination of petulance and immaturity, trapped in an inferiority complex that taints his every act. The chorus of weeping stones takes on a more active role as a director of hellish etiquette, enforcing rules such as no crying, no singing, and no remembering. And, although Orpheus does maintain a major role as Eurydice's husband-to-be and ill-fated savior, he is superseded in Ruhl's version by Eurydice's father, who works from within the confines of the Underworld to redeem her. Ruhl's Eurydice is "a playful, pleasing if perilously slight meditation on the Greek myth of love beyond death," commented Variety reviewer Dennis Harvey. "Surreal yet familiar, it's a charming dream whose 85 compact minutes don't—maybe don't need to—leave a deeper, lasting impression."
Melancholy Play tells the story of Tilly, whose pall of sadness has remarkable effects on the people around her. Tilly's melancholy mood makes her remarkably sexy. Men and women in her life suddenly begin falling in love with her. Her psychiatrist does; so does her hairdresser, Frances, and tailor, Frank. They all find their separate, intense attractions to this delightfully down-in-the-dumps young woman. Tilly enjoys her melancholy, psychiatrist Lorenzo tells her; she is "expert at draping herself across an elegant divan in a pose of wan despair," observed Chicago Sun-Times contributor Hedy Weiss. One day, however, Tilly becomes happy, and with this newfound cheerfulness, her life and the lives of those who have orbited the once-sad woman are now thrown into farcical turmoil. "Offbeat, lyrical and just a little bit nutty, it is a real charmer" demonstrating "a certain quaintness, although it also has surprising humor and zaniness and instant appeal as well," noted Weiss of Ruhl's drama. "Timelessly resonant, Melancholy Play reminds us of the beauty of love, the poignancy of its loss, and ultimately, what it is to be alive in our complex, mushrooming world," commented a reviewer from ReviewPlays.com.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Theatre, September, 2003, Jeremy Harrell, "Blood Ties in the Underworld," review of Eurydice, p. 9; October, 2004, review of The Clean House, p. 104; November, 2004, Pamela Renner, interview with Ruhl, p. 49.
Boston Globe, October 1, 2004, Ed Siegel, "A Quirky, Sparkling Clean House," p. C19.
Chicago Sun-Times, July 2, 2002, Hedy Weiss, "The Appeal of Melancholy," p. 37.
Daily Variety, February 25, 2004, "Ruhl's House Cleans up for Blackburn," September 27, 2004, Frank Rizzo, review of The Clean House, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2005, Karen Wada, "Six Distinct Voices with an L.A. Link," p. E36; January 31, 2005, Daryl H. Miller, "House Is a Bit Askew," p. E3.
Variety, November 8, 2004, Dennis Harvey, review of Eurydice, p. 51.
New Dramatists Web site, http://www.newdramatists.org/ (June 18, 2005), "Sarah Ruhl."
ReviewPlays.com, http://www.reviewplays.com/ (June 18, 2005), review of Melancholy Play.
Williamstown Theatre Festival Web site, http://www.wtfestival.org/ (June 18, 2005), "Sarah Ruhl."