Theresa Rebeck's latest play The Understudy is currently running to packed houses at the Roundabout. Starring Justin Kirk, Julie White (a long-time muse of Rebeck's), and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (yes, that Mark-Paul Gosselaar) the show follows the story of an understudy (Kirk), a movie star crossing over into stage work (Gosselaar), and a stage manager who used to be an actor (White). During the course of the play the group is trying to get through a rehearsal of a fictional masterpiece by Franz Kafka, encountering numerous problems along the way. The show is at times hilarious, consistently witty, and perfectly cast. It's not only a send-up of the always-a-bridesmaid reality of an understudy's life, it's also a cutting critique of show business, a celebration of the theater, and a heartfelt story of three people trying to make something of their lives despite less than ideal circumstances. Last week I spoke with Rebeck by phone about the play, her career, and her feelings about the theatrical glass ceiling she described in an op-ed for the Guardian last fall.
The L Magazine: I know you said in the article written about you in the New York Times in 2007 that you are a workaholic, but faced with the task of doing research for this interview, I have to admit that the amount of work you've written is kind of staggering. It would take me a year to read everything. You must have a few projects going all the time.
Theresa Rebeck: Yeah, my brain actually works like that. I know a lot of people who say they can't multi-task and I am the opposite: I can't not multi-task. It has something to do with the way my brain works. If I don't have things in there to keep it occupied, it turns on me.
Not only are you working on different projects, you're working across different media: theater, film, television, and fiction. You published your first novel [Three Girls and Their Brother] in 2003.
Yeah and I have another one coming out in the spring. It's called Twelve Rooms With A View. The communal nature of writing film and television is a difficult thing to negotiate. And I'm very grateful when it comes out well and I'm very grateful for how much money they pay me, but you do reach a certain point where you think, I don't want to have my work compromised. It's good to be in a place where I can really just sort of say, I'm sorry, I've paid my dues, I don't have to pay any more dues. I'm told that you have to keep paying them your whole life as a writer, but I hope that I don't have to deal with that as much anymore.
It does seem like you aren't necessarily fighting for opportunities at this point. It seems like when you write something new there are people who are interested in putting it on.
I mean, honestly, I've never become a critic's darling. In some way I haven't entered the art star club, which is really what I covet at this point. Because it does feel like that is another realm of freedom that has its appeal. At the same time, what are you gonna do, it's a complicated game out there.