Theresa Rebeck: Bar plays should be 'humanly reckless'

a Womens Voices Fund 800
Theresa Rebeck recently spoke to a group from the Denver Center’s Women’s Voices Fund about gender disparity in the American Theatre.

Celebrated playwright Theresa Rebeck has a soft spot for bar plays. Her newest world premiere, a commissioned work for the DCPA Theatre Company, is a bar play called The Nest. That’s the name of a neighborhood watering hole on its last legs. “But it’s got very beautiful bones inside it,” she says.

The bar is from another time. Its neighborhood is changing and its regulars have dwindled to an anachronistic few. And now the owner has been approached by outside forces to sell. “It’s really about the architecture of our communities and how they are being razed in favor of a much more impersonal and corporate reality,” she said.

That Rebeck has a soft spot for anything might come as a surprise to audiences who gasped through her last Denver Center world premiere back in 2008. Rebeck’s Our House was an angry, cutting satire about the corrosion of journalism and the simultaneous rise of reality TV. It skewered random targets such as media mergers, the gun culture and more … with a slowly expanding pool of blood covering the stage floor. The play was a piece of inspired fury.

Rebeck proudly called Our House “intentionally messy” back in 2008. And eight years later, she summoned the very same expression to describe The Nest.

Theresa Rebeck Quote“I feel like the mandate of any play that takes place in a bar is that it should ramble a bit,” she said with a laugh.

“I think it needs to be a little humanly reckless.”

Rebeck is known for writing uncommonly topical plays that turn a mirror on the contradictions and aggravations of everyday contemporary life. And like most regulars at any given favored watering hole, Rebeck is nothing if not refreshingly outspoken. Let her loose in a fictional bar populated by small-town regulars, then add booze, and you open Rebeck’s pointed pen as wide as a whiskey spout for just about any topic she wants.

When drinking at The Nest, no conversation is off limits. The same holds true when talking with Rebeck. She doesn’t want you to love her plays. She wants you to listen to what they have to say.

Visitors to the DCPA’s annual Colorado New Play Summit got a sneak peek at The Nest last February. The Summit introduces four evolving scripts each year, and at least two are then selected for full production the next mainstage season. Last year, the chosen were The Nest and Tanya Saracho’s FADE.

Rebeck looks at the DCPA Theatre Company’s comprehensive new-play development program, headed by Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson, Director of New Play Development Bruce K. Sevy and Dramaturg Douglas Langworthy, as a national model. Last year, development time at the Summit was expanded to two weeks. Rebeck found the extra time to be invaluable for The Nest, and not only because her play underwent two name changes.

“Going into the Summit, I just had a feeling the play was too tidy and that what I needed was to explode it a little bit,” she said. “And yes, I exploded it.”

Thompson also co-founded the DCPA’s Women’s Voices Fund, a $1 million endowment that specifically supports new plays by women and the hiring of female directors. The fund has allowed the Theatre Company to produce 26 plays by women, commission 16 female playwrights and hire 20 female directors since 2006.

“Kent Thompson absolutely walks the walk,” Rebeck said. “Those three guys have a very delicate touch and an enormous respect for all of the artists they invite here. I love it here. I feel very safe.”

The Nest 2015 Colorado New Play Summit.
Reading of ‘The Nest’ at the 2015 Colorado New Play Summit last February. Photo by Kyle Malone.

The issue of gender disparity in the American theatre has grown like a national drumbeat in recent months. According to a recent sampling, just 22 percent of all plays produced on American stages between 2011-14 were written by women, even though women generally average up to 61 percent of the theatregoing audience.

But this is a conversation Rebeck has been leading her entire adult life. And frankly, she’s happy to pass the mic. “I am encouraged because I don’t have to be at the center of it anymore,” said Rebeck, who created The Lilly Awards with Marsha Norman and Julia Jordan in 2010 as a way to call attention to the work of women in the American theatre.

“I strongly feel like going to the theatre should always be a lesson in empathy,” she said. “It is something that creates community that can potentially bring us all into the same understanding of our shared humanity. And I think that’s what The Nest is ultimately about. So I cannot wait until we are working in a post-gender universe.”

That’s why she was happy to hear the following anecdote from last year’s Summit. At the end of a public reading of The Nest, a man turned to his companion and said, “I never would have guessed that was written by a woman.” Rebeck, after all, has been compared to blistering peers such as David Mamet and Neil LaBute. Rebeck, ironically, considers herself to be “absurdly and almost incoherently optimistic.”

But she took the gender comparison to be compliment, she said. “Because I think that has to be a person who thinks of women in a certain way, and now he has come to understand that what he thinks about women is not necessarily accurate.

“So I think that’s really good.”

The Nest: Ticket information

  • By Theresa Rebeck 
  • Jan. 22-Feb. 21
  • Space Theatre
  • When you have a seat at the bar called The Nest, no conversation is off-limits, whether you’re speaking or eavesdropping. That is, until a stranger walks in with a lucrative proposition. Pulitzer Prize finalist Theresa Rebeck’s plays “may make you laugh or shudder (or both)” according to American Theatre, and with its feisty humor and scorching dialogue, this explosive new comedy holds a cracked mirror up to friendships, romantic relationships and families.
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

  • Previous NewsCenter coverage of The Nest:
    The Nest flies in the face of national gender trends
    Five things we now know about that bar
    Cast list announced
    Theresa Rebeck is not getting angry: She’s getting even
    ​American Theatre magazine: The Colorado New Play Summit Is a Developing Story

    Cast profiles (to date):
    Meet Kevin Berntson
    Meet Brian D. Coats
    Meet Brian Dykstra
    Meet Carly Street

    0 replies

    Leave a Reply

    Want to join the discussion?
    Feel free to contribute!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *