Sarah Ruhl is a mother of three and one of America's best-known playwrights. She has written a stunningly original book of essays whose concerns range from the most minimal and personal subjects to the most encompassing matters of art and culture. The titles themselves speak to the volume's uniqueness: "On lice," "On sleeping in the theater," "On motherhood and stools (the furniture kind)," "Greek masks and Bell's palsy."
100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write is a book in which chimpanzees, Chekhov, and child care are equally at home. A vibrant, provocative examination of the possibilities of the theater, it is also a map to a very particular artistic sensibility, and an unexpected guide for anyone who has chosen an artist's life.
In these meditations, anecdotes, and stories, award-winning playwright Ruhl (Stage Kiss) hits upon the ideal gimmick for the time-starved author and overburdened reader. Ruhl praises the "beauty of smallness," showing in pithy probes that "small, forthright words... might have an idea buried in them as large as the most expansive work." As in her plays, her wide-ranging subjects some treated in no more than a paragraph, line, or single word tend to be the subversive. She rallies her readers to "fight the mania for clarity and help create a mania for beauty instead." Parenting scenes provide the book's tenderest moments, while discussions of playwriting and theater offer valuable instruction on craft. The two themes converge not just in their similarities "both parenting and theater involve an embrace of impermanence, and both are embodied art forms" but also in Ruhl's belief that theater, playing to the childlike love of illusion, can deliver pure joy. In bold, incisive strokes, she advocates for the creation of art that captures the "humor and the desperation of life," and for the observation that the tiniest details, in the hope that smallness can "wreak transformation at the most vulnerable, cellular level... in order to banish the goliath of loneliness."
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I have been reading Ruhl's plays while simultaneously reading this collection of essays. It is helpful to learn some of the playwright's values and considerations to dramatic writing--it's mostly enjoyable to feel invited into Ruhl's private thoughts as a writer. Ruhl's plays provoke my imagination and curiosity; this collection of essays has the same impact. As a playwright, I would have liked more information on Ruhl's craft as a playwright and pedagogical approach as a teacher, but there is something charming about her holistic approach to the essays. A playwright is not only a playwright--all aspects of life affect writing. Ruhl does a great job of demonstrating how life compliments, disrupts, inspires, and challenges writing for the stage. Ruhl is one of our most poetic and imaginative contemporary playwrights. If you enjoy her plays or enjoy learning about playwriting (though the information found here is sparse), this book is a must read.