Playwright and screenwriter
B orn David Lindsay, c. 1970, in Boston, MA; married Christine Abaire (an actress); children: Nicholas. Education: Earned a degree in drama from Sarah Lawrence College, c. 1992; completed the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at the Juilliard School.
Addresses: Home—Brooklyn, NY.
W orked summers in a circuit-board factory; first play, Mario’s House of Italian Cuisine, staged at his high school, Milton Academy, c. 1984; A Show of Hands premiered at Sarah Lawrence College; A Devil Inside produced at the SoHo Repertory Theater, New York City, January, 1997; other plays include Fuddy Meers, 1999; Kimberly Akimbo, commissioned for the South Coast Repertory Theater, Costa Mesa, CA, 2001; Wonder of the World, 2001; Rabbit Hole, 2006; author of scripts for the Broadway stage-musical versions of High Fidelity, 2006, and Shrek, 2008; credited as a writer on two films, Robots (2006) and Ink-heart (2007).
Awards: Pulitzer Prize for drama for Rabbit Hole, 2007.
P laywright David Lindsay-Abaire won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his acclaimed Broadway play, Rabbit Hole. The tale of a family grieving over the unexpected death of their only child, the drama was Lindsay-Abaire’s first serious-minded work for the stage and earned strong praise from critics for its deft touch with such delicate subject matter. It starred Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon as the unraveling mother around whom the story revolves, a role was slated to be reprised by Nicole Kidman in film adaptation planned for 2009.
Born in the early 1970s, David Lindsay grew up in the predominantly working-class section of South Boston, Massachusetts, known as the longtime home to Irish-American families like his. He would add the “Abaire” to his surname after marrying Christine Abaire. His mother worked in a factory, and his father at the Boston-area fruit-delivery hub in nearby Chelsea. At the age of 12, Lindsay won a scholarship to Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. This prestigious private school dated back to 1798 and had an alumni roster that included members of the Kennedy political dynasty. As a day student at Milton, Lindsay was a standout wrestler but quit the team when he decided to try out for the school play in ninth grade. Not long afterward, he wrote his first play after a friend suggested they collaborate on a project, asserting “‘you should write it because you’re the funny one,’” Lindsay-Abaire recalled in an interview with Jenelle Riley for Back Stage West. “Having never written a play before, I said okay. Then I wrote an 11th-grade play and a 12th-grade play.”
Lindsay-Abaire went on to Sarah Lawrence College in the New York City area, where he studied acting, but took some playwriting courses to fill in his schedule. After this initial training, his first effort was staged at the school, and the warm reception of this play, A Show of Hands, helped decide his career direction. “The audience really seemed to like it,” he told another Back Stage interviewer, Raven Snook. “It dawned on me that playwriting seemed so much easier than acting.”
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence, Lindsay-Abaire began entering playwriting contests that he found in the Dramatists Sourcebook, a compendium of theater companies, competitions, and literary agents. He won a contest sponsored by the Trustus Theatre in Columbia, South Carolina, and traveled there for the honor; while there, the second-place finisher suggested he apply to the Juilliard School, one of the most esteemed performing-arts training institutions in the United States. Its Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program was notoriously difficult to win admission to, but came with an enticing perk, no tuition fee. “I explained that I didn’t have the money for graduate school and he told me that there was no tuition,” Lindsay-Abaire recalled in the interview with Snook about this conversation with the other playwright. “I was like ‘Wait, it’s free? I applied right away.’”
Lindsay-Abaire was one of the handful—between three and five new students every year—of playwriting hopefuls who entered the Wallace program, where his teachers were two well-known figures, Marsha Norman—who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for her drama ’night, Mother—and Christopher Du-rang, author of the first play that Lindsay-Abaire ever appeared in back at Milton Academy in his ninth-grade year: A History of the American Film. The Wallace program does not grant a degree or grade its participants’ work, but it does offer an invaluable chance for participants to hone their craft, especially with guidance from occasional visiting teachers such as Terrence McNally. As a program participant, Lindsay-Abaire was required to submit ten pages of a script each week to the program’s master class. Two days later, Juilliard drama students would do a read-through of the pages in a workshop-style setting.
After finishing the two-year Wallace program, Lindsay-Abaire began in the late 1990s to make a name for himself with plays at the SoHo Repertory Theater. One of them was A Devil Inside, described by New York Times writer D. J. R. Bruckner as “a fair test of how convincingly lunatic every member of the cast can be,” with dialogue “calculated to sound like improvisation by dazed people addicted to bad jokes.” Other works of Lindsay-Abaire’s from this period include The L’il Plays and Snow Angel, but it was the debut of his comedy Fuddy Meers at the Manhattan Theatre Club in the autumn of 1999 that gained the young playwright his first serious critical attention. Vincent Canby, the estimable New York Times reviewer, hailing him as “a smart new playwright to be watched,” compared the lively, farcical tone of the play to some of Durang’s works. Canby wrote: “Mr. Lindsay-Abaire is, possibly, an original. He also can write lines that haunt as they amuse.”
The title of Fuddy Meers derives from the speech impediment of one of its characters, who has suffered a stroke. The lead figure is disabled by a different, most unusual affliction, however: this pleasant, polite homemaker named Claire awakens each morning with amnesia. She wanders off with a shady man who takes her to meet a woman who claims to be her mother. “Fuddy Meers is, on one level, the sort of abused-woman-at-the-crossroads tale that is a mildewed staple of television movies,” noted Ben Brantley, another critic from the New York Times. “On another level, it’s a wisecracking, self-conscious dysfunctional family comedy, which is about all comedies seem to be these days.”
Around this same period, Lindsay-Abaire signed a deal with a major Hollywood studio, 20th Century-Fox, to write screenplays. Because he had never written for film, his contacts there suggested that he write one just for practice, but they were excited at the road-trip/comedy he turned in, and for a time the name of British actor Hugh Grant was discussed for the lead. An executive shuffle at the studio put the project on hold, and then Lindsay-Abaire was asked to make major revisions that would have considerably altered the story structure. He did wind up working on two other scripts that were produced several years later—Robots and Inkheart—though he claimed his actual contribution to each was negligible. “In Hollywood, you’re just a guy for hire,” he told Snook in the interview for Back Stage. “They pay you through the nose and in return you have no power. They do what they want with your script and they give you pages of notes and they contradict themselves 17 times over.”
Lindsay-Abaire’s next play was Kimberly Akimbo, which was commissioned for the South Coast Repertory Theater in Costa Mesa, California. It pre-miered there in April of 2001 and was staged at the Manhattan Theatre Club a year later. Its story centers on a young woman afflicted with a rare genetic condition that causes her to age prematurely. The lead role was played by Marylouise Burke, who had appeared in most of Lindsay-Abaire’s plays. Again, the New York Times’ Brantley gave it a glowing review, terming it a play that manages to be several things: “a shrewd satire, a black comedy and a heartbreaking study of how time wounds everyone. And while its tone initially suggests a dysfunctional family sitcom the production keeps confounding your expectations of how you’re going to respond to a given scene.”
Lindsay-Abaire’s next work, which premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in late 2001, scored an impressive big-name star for its lead. Wonder of the World featured Sex and the City actor Sarah Jessica Parker—on break from the hit HBO series—as a mild-mannered schoolteacher who finds something odd in her husband’s dresser drawer, which prompts her to suddenly walk out on the marriage. She boards a bus bound for Niagara Falls, determined to fulfill a long list of goals she carries with her that represent a life she once hoped to experience. Reviews of the play were mixed, however. “The deftly bizarre jokes, the outlandish symbols, the double-edged tone of voice are all in plain view,” noted the New York Times’ Brantley, comparing this work to Fuddy Meers. “But they only rarely cohere into a three-dimensional landscape.”
In 2003, Lindsay-Abaire enrolled in a musical-theater workshop at the New Dramatists theater company in New York City. He explained why in an interview with the New York Times’ John Hodgman. “Having never really collaborated with anyone, I thought I should learn how to sit in a room with people and work with them,” he reflected, and went on to explain that the workshop “basically laid out the rules of how to work together, and I went by the rules, and I had a really good time.” The learning experience led to new work, including the musical adaptation of High Fidelity, the novel by Nick Hornby that was turned into a 2000 film starring John Cusack. He also signed on to pen the script for a stage-musical version of the successful animated movie Shrek.
Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prizewinning drama Rabbit Hole showed touches of comedy, but as Brantley’s New York Times review noted, the drama about the unexpected death of a small child “inspires such copious weeping among its audience that you wonder early on if you should have taken a life jacket.” The play premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in February of 2006, this time with another Sex and the City star, Cynthia Nixon, in the lead. Nixon played Becca, the woman whose son, Danny, died several months earlier when he was hit by a car and who is finding it exceedingly difficult to cope. Her husband, Howie, secretly watches old videotapes of Danny, while her mother—played by Tyne Daly— tries to commiserate with her over the fact that Becca’s brother died of a drug overdose several years earlier. Further complicating Becca’s grief is the fact that her irresponsible sister is now pregnant. When the high school student responsible for the accident appears on their doorstep with a science-fiction story he has written about an alternate, parallel universe—the “rabbit hole” of the title and a reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland— finally a semblance of closure seems to come for all.
Rabbit Hole earned Lindsay-Abaire accolades, with many critics noting that the absurdist humor of his previous plays had vanished. Instead, wrote David Rooney in Variety, “the playwright has crafted a drama that’s not just a departure but a revelation—an intensely emotional examination of grief, laced with wit, insight, compassion and searing honesty.” Brantley, writing in the New York Times, gave it a glowing review, finding it an impressive departure and a career turning point. “The sad, sweet release of Rabbit Hole lies precisely in the access it allows to the pain of others, in its meticulously mapped empathy,” Brantley declared; he also praised the playwright, cast, and director Daniel Sullivan. “This anatomy of grief doesn’t so much jerk tears as tap them, from a reservoir of feelings common to anyone who has experienced the landscape-shifting vacuum left by a death in the family.”
Lindsay-Abaire explained the origins of Rabbit Hole in the interview with Riley for Back Stage West, recalling that when he was at Juilliard, Marsha Norman—whose Pulitzer Prizewinning drama ’night, Mother centered on a final telephone conversation between a mother and her grown daughter who is determined to commit suicide that night—had once told her students “that if we wanted to write a good play, we should write about the thing that scares us most in the world,” Lindsay-Abaire said, and he remembered thinking at the time that he felt unable to tap into that. “A few years later I had a son, and when he was three years old, I heard a couple stories about friends of friends who had children die very suddenly and unexpectedly.” In contemplating such an event befalling his own household, Lindsay-Abaire recalled, he could barely grasp the depths of grief that a parent would suffer. “Then I thought, ‘Oh, this is what Marsha was talking about.’”
A Devil Inside, produced at the SoHo Repertory Theater, New York City, January 1997.
Fuddy Meers, produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City, November 1999.
Wonder of the World, produced at the Manhattan The-atre Club, November 2001; published by Overlook/Tusk (New York City), 2005.
Kimberly Akimbo, commissioned for the South Coast Repertory Theater, Costa Mesa, CA, premiered April 2001, also produced at the Manhattan The-atre Club, November 2002.
Rabbit Hole, produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club, February 2006.
Back Stage, September 28, 2001, p. 7.
Back Stage West, October 5, 2006, p. 11.
New York Times, January 23, 1997; February 25, 1999; November 3, 1999; November 21, 1999; November 2, 2001; February 5, 2003; February 13, 2005; February 3, 2006.
Variety, November 5, 2001, p. 32; February 6, 2006, p. 85.