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With a pair of witty plays in the East Village, Sarah Einspanier is a writer to watch
Considering Sarah Einspanier has two productions running in New York this spring, it's jarring to hear her claim that "I'm bad at plot when it comes to plays and also my life! I'm always like, you should figure out who you are, but I haven't yet." That kind of self-deprecating yet self-aware statement sounds like something one of her characters might say. Both of her plays—House Plant currently at Next Door at NYTW, and Lunch Bunch, which begins performances next month—feature sharp dialogue and painfully clever millennials. But the similarities between the two end there.
Although she wrote House Plant first, Lunch Bunch—which was a hit last year at Clubbed Thumb and is being remounted this season by The Play Company—ended up being Einspanier's big break. That was fitting since she moved to NYC hoping to work with Clubbed Thumb, which commissions daring new works.
"I remember going to all of their openings because they always had a Trader Joe's buffet," she recalls. "I met all the other up-and-coming artist types because they were also downing as much hummus and as many two-bite brownies as they could."
Einspanier was accepted into Clubbed Thumb's Early Career Writers' Group, which is where she got the idea for Lunch Bunch after learning about a group of real-life Bronx public defenders who have been making and sharing meals since 2014. She pitched it to the company's Summerworks festival, assuming it would be rejected. "I thought everyone was gonna think it was stupid, but I also really wanted to do it," she says. The company not only said yes, but also asked her to start writing immediately. "I didn't get to spend six months talking myself out of it."
She developed the play, which explores how these stressed-out lawyers find sustenance in lunch and life, hand in hand with director Tara Ahmadinejad, who took a novel approach to their collaboration. "We met in Prospect Park and Tara asked me to read the entire play aloud to her," Einspanier recalls. "So I read all the characters with all of the overlaps, which honestly was my favorite thing I've ever been asked to do." Einspanier's input was solicited at every step; she even helped restage the entire play three days before its first preview, when they added its memorable office chair choreography.
While Clubbed Thumb's speedy development process taught Einspanier how to forge new work quickly and with purpose, she also relishes the ability to experiment and revise. "With some plays it's like, oh my God, I have to rewrite the whole thing! And with other plays, it's like, I just gave myself shingles over moving three commas," she says. House Plant, which examines the aftermath of a youthful breakup, demanded several reinventions, in part because it was inspired by many disparate sources.
"I watched a mountain climbing documentary, and then I wanted to watch eight more and I didn't know why," she recalls. "I told a friend, 'I think Grey's Anatomy needs to be in this play,' and I didn't understand why. I think it has something to do with life or death. It's an attempt to explore how something small can feel like a trigger to something big."
Despite their differences in creation and content, House Plant and Lunch Bunch reflect Einspanier's worldview. She takes the daily drudge, its inconveniences and inconsistencies, and injects just enough gentle chaos to push her characters to reconsider how they're going about their lives. "We all have that one day that's very dramatic, but what does it mean to be human on all the others?" she asks. "I'm very interested in the other 364 days a year."
The fact that she's still figuring out the path she's on means these plays have an uncanny authenticity. "It's so important to not know what you're doing half the time," she says. "If you could articulate something, then you would just write an essay. Being deeply inarticulate is part of the process of playwriting. At least that's what I tell myself so I feel better when I can't write a quote for the press release."
Jen Gushue is a freelance theatre writer with bylines in American Theatre, HowlRound and Business Insider. They are also the Associate Guides Editor for Business Insider's Insider Picks. Follow them on Twitter at @jengushue. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Molly Bernard and Ugo Chukwu in House Plant. Photos by Elke Young.
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