Sweet, Jeffrey 1950-
SWEET, Jeffrey 1950-
PERSONAL: Born May 3, 1950, in Boston, MA; son of James Stouder (a writer) and Vivian (a violinist; maiden name, Roe) Sweet; children: Jonathan Brian. Education: New York University, B.F.A., 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, playing piano, plays and movies, and "having endless conversations."
ADDRESSES: Home—250 West 90th St., No. 15G, New York, NY 10024.
CAREER: Writer, critic, and educator, 1967—. New Dramatists, alumnus; Ensemble Studio Theater, member of company; Victory Gardens Theater, resident playwright. Scholastic Magazines, editorial assistant, 1970-71; W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., editorial assistant, 1974-75; Russell Sage Foundation, librarian, 1977-78; Another World (television series), associate writer, 1981-82; Embassy Television, writer, 1983-84; American Broadcasting Companies, executive story editor for the television series Hothouse, 1987; One Life to Live (television series), script editor, 1991-92. State University of New York College at Purchase, professor of playwriting, 2002—.
MEMBER: Writers Guild of America, Dramatists Guild (member of council), Drama Desk, New York Writer's Bloc (founder).
AWARDS, HONORS: Award for best drama, Society of Midland Authors, 1978, for Porch, and 1982, for The Value of Names; playwriting fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1989, for Porch; Heideman Award, best one-act play, 1983, for The Value of Names; Outer Critics Circle Award, 1984, for Love; Joseph Jefferson Award, outstanding new work, 1998, for Flyovers; playwriting prize, American Theater Critics Association, 1991, for American Enterprise, and 2001, for The Action against Sol Schumann; Kennedy Center-American Express Prize and citation in The Best Plays of … (annual), both for American Enterprise.
Porch (one-act; produced in Washington, DC, 1977), published in Best Short Plays, 1976, edited by Stanley Richards, Chilton Book Co. (Radnor, PA), 1976, revised edition, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1985.
Responsible Parties (three-act; produced in New York, NY at Actors Studio, 1978), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1985.
After the Fact (produced in New Haven, CT, 1980), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1981.
Stops along the Way (one-act; produced in Evanston, IL, 1980) published in Best Short Plays, 1981, edited by Stanley Richards, Chilton Book Co. (Radnor, PA), 1976, revised edition, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1981.
Holding Patterns, produced in Chicago, IL, 1981.
Ties (two-act; produced in Chicago, IL, at Victory Gardens Theater, 1981, produced on television by WTTW-TV), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1982.
Routed (produced in Chicago, IL, at Victory Gardens Theater, 1981), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1982.
The Value of Names (produced in Louisville, KY, at Humana Festival of New American Plays, 1982), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1986.
Love (musical adaptation of the play Luv by Murray Schisgal), composed by Howard Marren, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead (produced in New York, NY at Audrey Wood Theater, 1984; produced as What about Luv? in New York, NY, by York Theater Company, 1992), Music Theater International (New York, NY), 1984.
With and Without (produced in Chicago, IL, at Victory Gardens Theater, 1977), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1997.
American Enterprise (originally produced in Chicago, IL, at Organic Theater), produced in New York, NY, at St. Clement's Church Theater, 1994.
I Sent a Letter to My Love (musical), composed by Melissa Manchester, produced in New York, NY, at Primary Stages, 1995.
Flyovers (produced in Chicago, IL, at Victory Gardens Theater, 1998), Samuel French (New York, NY), 2004.
Bluff (produced in Chicago, IL, at Victory Gardens Theater, 1999), Samuel French (New York, NY), 2004.
The Action against Sol Schumann (first produced in Chicago, IL, at Victory Gardens Theater, 2000), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 2003.
Immoral Imperatives, produced in Chicago, IL, at Victory Gardens Theater, 2001.
Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players, Limelight Editions (New York, NY), 1978, revised edition, 1987.
(Editor, with Otis L. Gurnsey) The Best Plays of …, (annual), Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1986-97.
The Dramatist's Toolkit, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1993.
Solving Your Script: Tools and Techniques for the Playwright, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2001.
Contributor of articles and stories to periodicals, including Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday,Ellery Queen's Mystery, and Dramatists Guild Quarterly. Columnist for Back Stage, 1989—, and Dramatics, 1996—.
SIDELIGHTS: Though primarily a playwright, Jeffrey Sweet first made his mark with an account of the improvisational theater movement in 1950s Chicago. Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players includes interviews with the original performers. Sweet once told CA, "The greatest single influence on my work is the improvisational theater movement, as developed by such figures as Viola Spolin, Paul Sills, David Shepherd, Alan Myerson, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Del Close, Sheldon Patinkin and others. Watching and/or workshopping with these people over the years has taught me a great deal about the structure and purposes of theater. I cannot recommend any better preparation for a career as a writer, director or actor than to study in an improvisational workshop."
Several of Sweet's early one-act plays take place in small-town, middle America and examine family strife and unmet expectations. Porch, a one-act play first produced in 1977, concerns a woman's return from New York City to her Ohio hometown and the strained relationship with her father due to their conflicting lifestyles and values. New York Times critic Richard Eder said that Porch is "written with subtlety and an increasingly compelling emotion." Similarly, Ties, a two-act play that presents a college theater director's involvement in a doomed romantic triangle, "grabs hold of an audience with a quietly played story about real human beings in a truly delineated setting," according to Chicago Times critic Richard Christiansen. However, in trying to achieve a balance of comedy and drama, "its funny lines sometimes are a little too flip, and [Sweet's] sentimental nature gets the best of him in a pat ending that … is just too good to be true," Christiansen commented.
Similar ideas are explored in The Value of Names, in which an aging comedian comes to terms with the people and events that resulted in his blacklisting during the McCarthy era. In Responsible Parties, Sweet creates two characters whose philosophical debate concerning the extent of one's responsibility for others is played out against the backdrop of a rundown motel full of somewhat desperate characters.
Sweet once told CA: "I see the primary business of the playwright being not the writing of dialogue but the creation of opportunities for actors to create compelling behavior on stage. Sometimes spoken language is a part of this behavior, sometimes not. (For instance, the part of Helen Keller in William Gibson's The Miracle Worker affords the actress playing the role brilliant opportunities even though she speaks only a few syllables.) The theater depicts behavior for an audience's evaluation. Of course, as soon as you talk about evaluating behavior, you're talking about ethics. I think that the theater is, by its very nature, an ethical medium. To deal with ethical questions without being didactic is one of the key challenges facing serious dramatic writing today.
"I have a great love for musical theater (I'm a composer-lyricist and have studied with Lehman Engel and Paul Simon), but, Stephen Sondheim and a handful of others aside, see little to be cheery about in the field these days. I hope to get more deeply involved in musical projects in the future."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Back Stage, January 24, 1992, Martin Schaeffer, review of What about Luv?, p. 46; April 15, 1994, Ira J. Bilowit, review of American Enterprise, p. 19; February 17, 1995, William Stevenson, review of I Sent a Letter to My Love, p. 44; October 8, 1999, Jonathan Abarbanel, review of Bluff, p. 23; October 19, 2001, Elias Stimac, review of Solving Your Script: Tools and Techniques for the Playwright, p. 40.
Chicago Times, January 30, 1981, Richard Christiansen, review of Ties; April 1, 1983; June 17, 1983.
Indianapolis Star, July 26, 2002, Marion Garmel, "Phoenix Stages Drama of Suspected Nazi Collaborator," p. G19; August 7, 2002, Marion Garmel, review of The Action against Sol Schumann, p. E2.
Los Angeles Times, February 20, 1984.
New York Times, November 15, 1978, Richard Eder, review of Porch; March 6, 1981; April 16, 1984; October 18, 1984; March 24, 1985.
TCI, May, 1995, David Barbour, review of The Best Plays of 1993-94: 75th Anniversary Edition; The Otis Guernsey/Burns Mantle Theatre Yearbook, p. 59.
Time, April 11, 1983, Richard Corliss, review of The Value of Names, p. 99.
Variety, June 1, 1998, Chris Jones, review of Flyovers, p. 52.
Jeffrey Sweet's Home Page, http://www.jeffreysweet.com/ (April 9, 2004).