Then the play finally goes up, and — if the writer really nails it — there’s this feeling of inevitability about the whole thing, as if every false start and shaky draft had been building to this point all long — which, in a way, they were.
Now that Monday’s Helen Hayes Awards are upon us, it feels like a good time to pop the back of the watch off the five plays nominated for the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical and see what made the gears go round. (This is strictly a survey of plays, so it excludes the musical nominees, Imagination Stage’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and Arena Stage’s “Pullman Porter Blues.”) Where did the writing begin, when did it start to shine, what wrong turns did it take on the way from the roughest draft to opening night?
Renee Calarco, ‘The Religion Thing,’ Theater J
This world premiere comedy focuses on two couples, one of mixed faith (a Jew and a Catholic) and the other born-again Christians, one of whom is significantly more committed to religion than the other.
Number of days it took to complete your script: It started as a 10-minute play in 2004. I probably had a first draft of the full length in 2005 or 2006, and I made a lot of changes between then and opening night in January 2012.
Number of rewrites: I have probably at least 15 drafts of this play in some form or another.
Favorite line in the play: They’re all completely unprintable for a family newspaper. Other than those: “You can’t be a Jew like you wear a sweater. Too cold, put it on. Too hot, take it off.”
Line you think best sums up the whole play: “Faith is the one constant thing I have.” The character who says it, Patti, is explaining to her friend Mo how she became born-again. She’s a recovering alcoholic, and she’s unhappy, and she’s telling Mo that she went to AA and it wasn’t enough for her. She tried all of these things . . . and religion and faith is the one thing that was always there for her.
Most difficult scene to write: Knowing that I had to write a sex scene. . . . Also, honestly knowing that I probably couldn’t get away with the two characters being naked. . . . The biggest concern for me was how to make it true to life, how to make it honest, and how to make it producible.
If you could get into your DeLorean and time-travel to the day you started writing this, would you do anything differently? I think I would have written it faster. I think I would have not doubted myself so much. I just think I would have paid more attention to what my gut was telling me, where to take the story.