The Acknowledgement of Love in Sarah Ruhl’s Drama
journal contributionposted on 23.05.2017 by Thomas Butler
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How can the mourning of a parent have anything to do with romantic love? This question is at the heart of much of Sarah Ruhl’s wide-ranging drama. Ruhl, the popular and prolific thirty-nine-year-old American playwright, has written nine original plays that have been produced, not counting her versions of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. In recent years, her Passion Play and In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play have had runs in several cities and have received critical accolades. As these titles suggest, Ruhl’s interests have been so expansive and idiosyncratic that they include both the history of the passion play and the invention of the vibrator as a means of therapy for “hysterical” women. In much of her work, New Yorker theatre critic John Lahr perceives a certain “lightness”—an aesthetic term borrowed from Italo Calvino—that comes across, Lahr says, as “the distillation of things into a quick, terse, almost innocent directness.” Speaking to Lahr, Ruhl agrees: “Lightness isn’t stupidity. It’s actually a philosophical and aesthetic viewpoint, deeply serious, and has a kind of wisdom—stepping back to be able to laugh at horrible things even as you’re experiencing them.” Ruhl’s sensibility for lightness allows her works to explore without sentimentality characters’ concomitant emotions of grief and vitality.