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There's No Business Like Show Business

Date: Aug 03, 2009


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By Linda Buchwald

Meryl Cohn is about to have her New York debut at the Fringe Festival with her play And Sophie Comes Too. It is a homecoming of sorts. Growing up in New York (raised in Brooklyn and then moved to Long Island in the sixth grade), her parents exposed her to theatre from a young age, with a little help from TDF.

Cohn's mother's cousin was a teacher and a member of TDF and Cohn's family would benefit from her TDF offers. "The earliest shows I remember seeing were Pippin and a revival of Fiddler on the Roof," Cohn says. "I remember the feeling of excitement more than I remember the details of the plays, but I loved it."

She would also frequent the TKTS booth with her parents. "We'd argue about what show to see. I wasn't allowed to see cool shows like Hair and Jesus Christ, Superstar because I was pre-teen and Jewish. Plays featuring nudity and Christ were generally discouraged," she says. "But I had the cast album to Hair and played it 30 times a day."

Eventually, Cohn was able to take the Long Island Rail Road into the city by herself or with a friend and had more flexibility in what she could see. "It felt like my salvation. One of the first shows I took the train to see was A Chorus Line. I was in love," she says.

It was in her early teens that Cohn realized her love of theater could turn into a career. Two Off Broadway musicals in particular moved her to reach this conclusion, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road by Gretchen Cryer (music by Nancy Ford) and Runaways by Elizabeth Swados. "I knew I couldn't act or sing or dance, so that was out. But it finally dawned on me that someone actually wrote these shows, and maybe I could do that," Cohn says.

At this early stage, the playwrights that most inspired her were Beth Henley, Lanford Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, and Harvey Fierstein. ("Torch Song Trilogy really just blew me away.") Cohn notes that she prefers straight plays to musicals. "The distinction, I think, is that the feeling of excitement that I had as a young audience member first happened when I saw musicals-but musicals were really all my parents took me to see." Funnily enough, Cohn is finishing up her first musical, Insatiable Hunger, with music and lyrics by Susan Goldberg and Billy Hough.

Cohn originally studied psychology at Smith College, but ultimately switched to playwriting. Her interest in the human psyche has carried over to both her playwriting and her column, "Ms. Behavior," now on its 17th year. "Writing an advice column has a lot in common with writing plays. Both involve examining human behavior, motivation, and relationships, and the impact caused by each person's action," she says. After graduating from Smith, she received an MFA in dramatic writing from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

And Sophie Comes Too, running at the Fringe from August 15 through 29, is a comedy about three sisters who are each dealing with their own desires as their mother awakes from a coma. "I'm never quite sure where my ideas come from, but I've been very intrigued in my work with the three-very-different sisters theme," Cohn says. "My partner, MB, thinks that the idea of waking to a different level of consciousness-which happens to Sophie in a literal way and to each of the characters in the play in a more subtle way-was a metaphor from my own life at the time. I was starting a series of injections for a rare, chronic illness that I have. I guess I hoped that the shots would be life-changing in terms of my own health. I hadn't realized the connection between the injections in the play and the ones in my real life. It's funny how reality creeps into the scripts in ways that often aren't obvious."

And Sophie Comes Too is produced by The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS). After a reading of the play in the fall, they decided to submit it to the Fringe. "I thought the Fringe would be a good forum for my play because there's a lot of interest in new work and in new voices," Cohn says. "The challenge is getting your play noticed amid the other 200 plays that are also being produced during the Fringe."

Perhaps someone sitting in the dark theatre watching Cohn's show will be inspired, just as she was as a teenager.

Click here for more information and to purchase tickets to And Sophie Comes To

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