Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters by Sarah Ruhl, review by Sarah Bagby
Sarah Ruhl is an award-winning playwright, an essayist, a drama teacher, and mother. Her play Dear Elizabeth and a her collection of essays called 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write on Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children and Theatre have been recently released. Read together, they illuminate the art and life of a playwright.
Dear Elizabeth is an astute distillation of 800 pages of correspondence between poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. It is a spare, empathetic portrait of the friendship of the two troubled poets and calls for two staged actors reading the dramatic letters to each other.
Ruhl’s book of essays is divided into four sections: the solo act of writing plays; acting in plays; the experience of audiences and critics; and finally, producing a play. Referencing Becket and Shakespeare, Ruhl infuses her smarts with life’s minutiae, elevating the banal to epic. She laments the disappearance of the piercing sound of sword fights with the introduction of guns in the theatre. She adamantly opposes the proliferation of participle titles like “Leaving Las Vegas” in favor of titles that open possibilities for the past, present and future in building a story one word at a time. She contemplates the current state of theatre, its fear of failure. Are we losing the sublime in pursuit of perfection? Is the success of comedy—making people laugh—in conflict with the ethics of comedy?
In each essay, each act, Ruhl contemplates humanity and what it means to be an artist. Concrete answers aren’t the point. Rather, Ruhl states, “sometimes the point is in the margins, or in the experience of throwing the dart.”
Sarah Bagby's review first appeared on 89.1 KMUW. Listen HERE.