‘On sleeping in the theater.’

Sarah Ruhl, one of my most favorite playwrights —  since I read her Melancholy play in which a character turns into an almond — has written a beautiful book – ‘100 Essays I don’t have Time to Write on umbrellas and sword fights, parades and dogs, fire alarms, children and Theater.‘ She’s a mom of 3 now, so she seized time when she could to write musings on the theater and life. It’s a wonderful and easy to digest book that can be consumed in small parts before bed, over a series of nights. She has beautiful and poignant things to say about motherhood, and smart questions about theater, and what it’s become. She softly pokes at why we feel like Conflict is so necessary, at why actors must act adverbs, about why everything must be Action. She’s made me wonder, for the first time in forever, really: why plays? She started out as a poet (as did I, kind of) so her plays are less August Osage and more Virginia Wolf, so she gets at the question: what’s wrong with no action? At least, for a bit? Trusting an audience to just listen? Watch and Wait?  Below is one of my most favorite of her essays, on seeing people fall asleep during her plays. This is SUPPOSED to be horrifying for the playwright — but why does it have to be?

“I have enjoyed  watching people sleep through my plays.  I have enjoyed the sensual fullness of their heads lolling, leaning back, sometimes almost onto my lap. I have wanted to hold their heads as they loll onto my seat, give them a short hair massage.  I hope that the play gives them the fullness of a dream. I would like to write a play that purposefully puts people to sleep. I would like to import beds into the theater, and couches, and to write a very long play, for a very long nap. If members of the audience woke up for a brief second, they would see something extraordinary on stage, like elephants balancing on horses, and they would drift back to sleep,  and the dream of the elephant would merge with their more private dreams. And no one would feel guilty, and no one would blame me, because they were meant to fall asleep, a small gift from me to them.”

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