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It's Good To Make a Writer Squeamish

Date: May 29, 2012


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It's no surprise that playwright Gina Gionfriddo and director Peter DuBois are collaborating again. They've been trading ideas since the Clinton administration.

Currently, they're hunkered down at Playwrights Horizons, working on the world premiere of Rapture, Blister, Burn, Gionfriddo's new play about a career woman and a homemaker who envy each other's lives. When Playwrights Horizons commissioned her to write the piece, Gionfriddo specifically asked for DuBois. "I'm not hugely prolific," she says. "But anything that I've ever written, I would have wanted him to direct. It isn't like I think he's only right for certain projects. He's right for all my work."

Their connection became clear to the rest of the world when DuBois helmed Becky Shaw, Gionfriddo's dark comedy about contemporary romance that was the hit of the Humana Festival in 2008. It eventually became a Pulitzer Prize finalist and drew raves at Second Stage Theatre in New York and the Almeida Theatre in London. (DuBois directed those productions, too.)

However, the pair met long before Becky Shaw, when they were both graduate students at Brown University in the 90s.  He got an MA in theatre history and criticism, and she studied dramatic writing with Paula Vogel. (Both remember how he used to crash Vogel's Friday night workshop sessions for her students because he was so eager to work with playwrights.) DuBois and Gionfriddo bonded. He directed her graduate project.  She taught writing classes for him when he served as artistic director of the Perseverance Theatre in Alaska.
Thanks to their long friendship, they have a shorthand that has defined their process on Rapture, Blister, Burn. "It's great because you can be less cautious with one another," says DuBois. "You're not tiptoeing around to make sure that you don't hurt feelings."
For instance, DuBois suggested changes to the text that make the housewife character, who dropped out of grad school to become a wife and mother, much more manipulative. He encouraged Gionfriddo to make the unmarried academic, whose specialty is pornography, darker and more seductive.  He invented bits of business that not only gave actress Beth Dixon more laughs as a septuagenarian with a fondness for martinis, but also underscore the choices forced on older generations of women.
"He's really fearless," says Gionfriddo. "If there are places I need to go that I'm squeamish about going, he will push me there." 

She is not the only playwright who has succeeded with DuBois. He's alsodirected the world premieres of David Grimm's The Miracle at Naples, Paul Weitz's Trust, Zach Braff's All New People, Bob Glaudini's Vengeance is the Lord's, and Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet (DuBois says he and Karam have already begun storyboarding a sequel). And he's done it all while serving as artistic director of Boston's Huntington Theatre Company.
"I love working with living writers, and I love the process of developing a new play from first draft to production," says DuBois, who spent two years living in the Czech Republic in the 90s because he so revered its president, playwright Václav Havel. "I get excited by very original theatrical voices."

Janice Simpson writes the blog Broadway & Me

Photo by Carol Rosegg