In 1972, when I was 12, my dad took me to see Jimmy Stewart in Harvey at the Prince of Wales theater in London. At curtain call, Stewart stood aside so “Harvey” could be recognized, straightening his ears and bow tie. I saw the invisible pooka on the bare stage. I knew immediately that theater was what I wanted to do.
I’m the daughter of film historian William K. Everson. My earliest memories were immersed in cinema, though my father also loved theater.
I started writing plays in 2015, and now have over 30 of them, including six full-lengths, a long track record of readings and productions, and a half-dozen self-published in paperback.
I came to playwriting quite by accident.
In 2014, I returned to college after a 36-year absence. I was in my second term at Empire State College. Serendipitously, my mentor, Lucy Winner, knew my dad. Lucy was convinced, in part by my DNA, that there was a playwright in me. I was unconvinced. My self-esteem was one notch below Kafka.
In Lynda Crawford’s playwriting class, my first play, Holdout, was written from a prompt to find a newspaper article and fictionalize a before-or-after event. I chose the Etan Patz case. I had a personal connection. His mother worked at my daughter’s school.
By the end of my first year, I had written the first draft of The Thin Man in The Cherry Orchard. My inherent style began to come into focus. My plays tend to incorporate oddball characters and situations, from screwball comedy to dark melodrama, from murderous love triangles amongst octogenarians to Dracula’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.
It’s also important to me to write powerful roles for women of a certain age. Sincerely Held Beliefs began shortly after seeing Lindsey Ferrentino’s This Flat Earth at Playwrights Horizons. I learned that when the subject matter is intense, even horrific, the audience needs the release of a laugh every few minutes. The laughs came from the truth of the characters, and their behavior.
While at Empire State college, Martyna Majok was a guest speaker at our lab, and I found her play, Ironbound, riveting. I love her work, the way she overlaps dialogue, and how she could make the “F” word mean eight different things in one sentence.
I saw her Pulitzer winning play, Cost Of Living, six times. I learned how small changes in action or delivery can yield huge results. Martyna never stopped working on the play. Even with a standing ovation each night, she was there taking notes. That’s the kind of playwright I want to be – always open to recognizing when something is an improvement.
Once I discover a playwright I love, I make a point to read and see anything by them that I can. First, it was Alan Ayckbourn. He was so prolific that there was always something of his playing when I was in London, but The Norman Conquests remains a favorite. Many years later, I learned how he was able to write the three plays simultaneously with index cards taped to the walls, indicating where each character was at any moment. That kind of dedication, detail and respect for his characters is awe-inspiring.
Martin McDonagh’s plays taught me that I could embrace my dark side, and still be funny. The Pillowman has to be the most disturbing play I ever saw, and yet I am compelled to see any production in any form that comes along. It even worked on ZOOM.
Last October, I saw 70 plays in 30 days. They weren’t all brilliant, but I learned something every time. Seeing Thin Man come to fruition at the Metropolitan Playhouse was a dream come true. Every actor wished it had a longer run, and so did I.
All my plays are deeply personal. Grief, loss and death are major factors, both in my life and work. I lost my dad in 1996, and many of my plays are an homage and a tribute to his legacy, and our life together. I miss him, and others, terribly. Writing gives me the opportunity to continue my relationship with them all.