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Alex Lubischer makes his New York debut with Bobbie Clearly at Roundabout Underground
When Alex Lubischer started writing Bobbie Clearly four years ago, he was sure it could never be done in New York. After all, it has 11 characters and no double casting. In his experience, producers tend to balk even at six roles. "'If you had four or three, it would be more producible," he recalls being advised regarding other plays under development. For Bobbie Clearly, he refused to compromise. "I just stopped worrying about that. I wanted to write the biggest, fullest, most bombastic play that I had in me."
Apparently Roundabout wasn't worried either, because the lauded New York-based theatre company is currently mounting the show as part of its Roundabout Underground series. Since 2007, this tiny, subterranean stage has helped launch the careers of many dramatists who've gone on to bigger things, including Tony winners Steven Levenson and Stephen Karam.
Right now, Lubischer doesn't have time to focus on what may come. He's too busy keeping up with his classwork as a second-year candidate in the Playwriting Program at Yale School of Drama while putting the final touches on the show.
An unfathomable act of offstage violence is what sets Bobbie Clearly in motion. The play is framed as a documentary as unseen filmmakers record the impact on a small Nebraska town at various intervals. To mark the tenth anniversary, friends and family members affected by the tragedy put on a fundraising talent show. It's a premise ripe for parody, but Lubischer manages to inject the townsfolk's heartfelt (though unwittingly hilarious) efforts with a certain sweetness. That's not surprising since these are his people. "My dad's a farmer in Nebraska," he says. "He raises corn and soybeans. So, yeah, that's where I lived the first 18 years of my life."
Lubischer penned his inaugural play as a freshman at the University of Southern California, but realized this was his vocation when studying at the National Theatre Institute in 2010. "I wrote six one-acts in six weeks," he recalls. "That's when I knew, oh, I want to do this for the rest of my life."
After doing small-scale productions on the cheap in Chicago, Lubischer moved to Manhattan in 2016 to be part of Page 73's writers group. Then he got into Yale and figured his New York debut would have to wait.
But it's easy to see why Roundabout would opt to bring Bobbie Clearly to the stage at this juncture, since it explores the ever-intensifying debate about how to deal with our culture of violence. "In the wake of acts of violence, we are wrestling with why," Lubischer says. "Why does this happen? Why does this keep happening? How are we culpable? And at the same time, how are we completely undeserving of this atrocity that has been inflicted on us?"
Bobbie Clearly features a top-notch and diverse cast, including Constance Shulman from Orange Is the New Black, and rising-star director Will Davis (Charm, Men on Boats). Lubischer says Roundabout included him in all the major creative decisions throughout the process. "They've been really giving me a lot of agency in making me feel empowered," he says. "I was there for every single casting session with Will and we were actually very much aligned. I just feel really blessed by this cast, because it's a very ensemble-based show. I think we were able to find for every part a person who both brings the character to life and also makes it so indelibly their own, even showing me things that I didn't know were hidden in there."
Although he's thrilled to see his show getting such a high-profile production, he wishes the subject matter didn't feel so current. "When I started writing this play four years ago, it actually was timely then," he says. "What's sad is that it's still timely now."
To read about a student's experience at Bobbie Clearly, check out this post on TDF's sister site SEEN.
Sandy MacDonald is a theatre critic who contributes to Time Out New York. Follow her at @sandymacdonald. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Constance Shulman in Bobbie Clearly. Photos by Joan Marcus.
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