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Clash of the Congresswomen Off Broadway

By: Jen Gushue
Date: Jul 01, 2024

A congressional aide turned playwright askes audiences to look beyond polarizing politics with N/A


Playwright Mario Correa is a self-described "political junkie." That came in handy when developing his new play N/A. Directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus and running at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater Off Broadway, it's a rapid-fire review of the last six years in the lives of N (Holland Taylor) and A (Ana Villafañe), fictionalized representations of Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Correa calls those real-life congresswomen "the most consequential woman in American political history" and "the future of the Democratic Party," respectively. But it was another congresswoman who initially got him hooked on politics.

Although Correa has primarily worked as a writer for stage and screen over the past two decades, he began his career as a congressional aide and lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Born in Chile, he immigrated to the United States with his family as a child, settling in Bethesda, Maryland. When he was just 17, a knock on his door from Connie Morella, then a congressional hopeful, set him on a political path. "It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school," he recalls. "She seemed nice, and I didn't really have anything else going on, so I volunteered to help on her campaign. She wasn't expected to win that race." But she did—and she was reelected seven more times, serving in the US House of Representatives for 16 years from 1987 to 2003 with Correa by her side.

Although he enjoyed his time with Morella, as the years wore on, he longed to try something new. "I loved the Hill, but I didn't love the post-Hill lobbying world," Correa explains. But congressional aide to playwright isn't exactly a natural pivot. Luckily, he had a little help from his childhood best friend, comedian Mo Rocca. "Mo and I used to always write together when we were in junior high school," Correa says. "We wrote a magazine that almost got us kicked out! It was a gossip mag about our fellow seventh graders." As Correa watched Rocca's star rise, he felt inspired to give his own dream a shot.

When Rocca landed a show on Animal Planet, Whoa! Sunday with Mo Rocca, he extended a writing gig to Correa. "I was a lobbyist during the day and then at night I would go home and write these comedic interstitials for Mo's show," Correa says. "I eventually quit my day job."

Even though he left politics behind, Correa admits they frequently pop up in his writing. His Off-Broadway comedy Tail! Spin! put verbatim accounts of political sex scandals onstage, and he worked on his pal Rocca's documentary Electoral Dysfunction. But Correa says N/A is the project that's "closest to home because it's kind of a love letter to Connie and everything I learned," while working in Washington, DC. "Watching her so closely, I developed this fascination for not only the institution of Congress, but the women in it and what it was like to navigate those hallways." Morella was the first woman elected to her seat and Correa wanted to, in small part, honor her journey through N/A, even if the characters are modeled on other politicians.

Because Correa knows people have "super-strong opinions" about Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez, he opted not to use their names in the play. "Positions are so hardened about these two women that we don't really know that much about personally," he says. Anonymizing the two of them, even barely, gave him the distance he needed to write freely.

"I wanted to get beyond this one-dimensional image we have of them," he says. "This is not the biography of Nancy Pelosi or AOC. I wanted to really focus squarely on what they are fighting for—and sometimes about." It was within that old guard versus new guard tension that Correa found the heart of his drama.

In actors Taylor and Villafañe, he also found two actors willing to fight—not against each other but for N and A. "I joke that we had a writers' room during rehearsals because they were really active," Correa says. "They advocated for their characters and brought things to the play that I couldn't have." Despite years of research and reading multiple biographies, Correa discovered he had some blind spots, especially where gender is concerned. "I'm really conscious of the fact that I admire these real-life women. I enjoy writing about them, but I'm not an 80-something-year-old woman or a 30-something-year-old woman," he says.

Although the three-week rehearsal process was a time crunch, Correa turned to the words of—who else?—Nancy Pelosi to help make it through: "You can't get tired. You can never get tired." Correa hopes that audiences will walk out of N/A with a new appreciation for these indefatigable women who have full, rich lives that extend beyond the halls of Congress.

"I would love folks to understand how these women function behind the scenes and just how consequential they are," he says adding that, after seeing the show, even his conservative mother-in-law admitted, "Well, I kind of liked them." Particularly important to Correa, his former boss, Congresswoman Morella, a longtime liberal Republican who's now 93 years old, enjoyed the play and saw some of herself in those two Democratic dynamos. "She's astonishing," Correa says of Morella. "She changed my life."


TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for N/A. Go here to browse our latest discounts for dance, theatre and concerts.

N/A is also frequently available at our TKTS Discount Booths.

Jen Gushue is a freelance theatre writer with bylines in American Theatre, HowlRound and Business Insider. They are also the Senior Product & Reviews Editor at The Good Housekeeping Institute. Follow them on Twitter at @jengushue.