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Alumni Profile

Finding the words

Theresa Rebeck, MA’83, MFA’86, PhD’89

By Susan Saccoccia

For Theresa Rebeck, MA’83, MFA’86, PhD’89, the Huntington Theatre Company’s 15th anniversary restaging of her 2003 play “Bad Dates,” on view through February 25, is a homecoming.

The Boston company’s 2004 production of the play proved to be one the most popular shows in its history. In 2006, the Huntington presented the world premiere of Rebeck’s “Mauritius,” which the following year became her first play to reach Broadway.

Raised in Kenwood, Ohio, Rebeck was active in theater during high school and college; but it was at Brandeis that she found a nurturing home to explore her inclinations as a playwright, earning a master’s in English, an MFA in dramatic writing, and a doctorate in Victorian Melodrama.

“I came of age in every important way in Boston,” says Rebeck, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Jess Lynn, MFA’87, and their son Cooper, 23, and daughter Cleo, 16. “At Brandeis, I found out I was a theater artist by becoming one, with other people who were passionate about theater. It was also at Brandeis that I met my husband.”

A prolific playwright and screenwriter, Rebeck’s career has spanned stage, television and film, and she has accumulated numerous awards along the way. More than 40 of her plays have been produced. Rebeck created the NBC musical series “Smash” and won a Peabody Award, among other accolades, for her work on “NYPD Blue.” Her film credits include writing “Harriet the Spy” and “Gossip,” as well as both directing and writing the 2017 release “Trouble,” starring Angelica Huston. In between, Rebeck wrote three well-received novels and a book of comedic essays about writing and show business.

Describing herself as “a comic realist,” Rebeck says, “My agenda is the truth. The stories come out funny, whether or not I’m trying. But I’m not a nihilist. I believe in art’s ability to heal. I believe in a kind of coherence in a world that is very incoherent. I believe in community.”

Rebeck relishes opportunities, such as at the Huntington, to expand and nurture her community of colleagues. “In all I do—TV, film and theater, I like working with the same artists over time,” says Rebeck. “There’s pleasure in understanding each other so well.”

When she creates characters, Rebeck often has particular actors in mind. While writing and directing a contemporary adaptation of William Congreve’s 1700 social satire “The Way of the World,” now on stage at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C., Rebeck conjured a character inspired by her friend Kristine Nielson, who is earning rave reviews in the role. “Kristine is one of our great stage actresses,” says Rebeck. “I built her character based on my understanding of how she performs comedy.”

The conjuring continues for another Washington, D.C., commission, the Arena Stage “Power Plays” project, which will present 25 new plays exploring the theme of women and power. Rebeck’s production will focus on witches.

Rebeck finds power in her community of theater artists, and nurtures this community as a writer, director and advocate.

“When directing my work,” says Rebeck, “I’m not just storytelling with the script, but also, in relationship with designers and actors, building the show as an expression of a lot of different kinds of talent. It’s mighty and exciting work.”

Categories: Alumni Profile
Date: February 2, 2018