Sarah Ruhl

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Sarah Ruhl
Ruhl sarah download 3.jpg
Born 1974 (age 41–42)
Wilmette, IL
Residence New York, NY
Alma mater Brown University
Pembroke College, Oxford
Occupation Playwright
Awards MacArthur Fellowship

Sarah Ruhl (born 1974) is an American playwright. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for a distinguished American playwright in mid-career. Two of her plays have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for DramaThe Clean House (2004) and In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) (2009).


Early life[edit]

Ruhl was born in Wilmette, Illinois. Her mother, Kathleen Ruhl, earned a Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Rhetoric, from the University of Illinois and became an English teacher, as well as an actress and a theatre director. Her father, Patrick Ruhl, became a marketer of toys, with an appreciation for literature and music. Her older sister, Kate, is a psychiatrist.

Ruhl began her "dramatic training" at the Piven Theatre Workshop (Evanston, Illinois) in fourth grade. Joyce Piven, the theatre's matriarch said: “The Piven Theatre Workshop was a major influence on Sarah, and I’m old enough not to be modest about it."[1]

Originally, Ruhl intended to be a poet. However, after she studied under Paula Vogel at Brown University, she was persuaded to switch to playwriting. Her first play was The Dog Play, written in 1995 for one of Vogel's classes.[2] At Brown University she earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1997 and Master of Fine Arts in 2001. She also did graduate work at Pembroke College, Oxford.[2]



Lady with the Lap Dog, and Anna around the Neck (adapted from Anton Chekhov) were commissioned and produced by the Piven Theatre Workshop in 2001.[3] Late: A Cowboy Song was produced by Clubbed Thumb in 2003.[4] Orlando was commissioned by the Piven Theatre Workshop and premiered in March 2003 at The Actors' Gang, Hollywood, California. [5] The play was produced Off-Broadway by the Classic Stage Company in 2010.[6] [7] [8] The Cornerstone Theater Company commissioned Ruhl for a play about young people living in Los Angeles. Cornerstone presented the play, Demeter in the City at REDCAT in June 2006. The play is based on the myth of Demeter and Persephone.[9][10]

The Oldest Boy premiered in November 2014 at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. The play was directed by Rebecca Taichman and starred Celia Keenan-Bolger and James Yaegashi.[11][12]

Her new play Scenes from Court Life, or The Whipping Boy and His Prince will premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre on September 30, 2016. The play involves "privilege and politics in both 17th century Britain and current day America."[13][14][15] The play was presented by the graduate acting class at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in November 2015.[16]

Her play How to Transcend a Happy Marriage will premiere at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater on March 20, 2017, directed by Rebecca Taichman.[17]

The Clean House[edit]

Ruhl gained widespread recognition for her play The Clean House (2004). "The play takes place in a 'metaphysical Connecticut' where married doctors employ a Brazilian housekeeper who is more interested in coming up with the perfect joke than in cleaning. Trouble erupts when the husband falls in love with one of his cancer patients".[18] It won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2004 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005.[19]


Her play Eurydice (2004) was produced Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre in June to July 2007.[20] Prior to that it had been staged at Yale Rep (2006), Berkeley Rep (2004), Georgetown University, and Circle X Theatre.[21] She wrote Eurydice in honor of her father, who died in 1994 of cancer, and as a way to "have a few more conversations with him." The play explores the use and understanding of language, an interest which she shared with her father:[2]

"Each Saturday, from the time Ruhl was five, Patrick took his daughters to the Walker Brothers Original Pancake House for breakfast and taught them a new word, along with its etymology. (The language lesson and some of Patrick’s words—“ostracize,” “peripatetic,” “defunct”—are memorialized in the 2003 Eurydice, a retelling of the Orpheus myth from his inamorata’s point of view, in which the dead Father, reunited with his daughter, tries to re-teach her lost vocabulary.)"[2]

Eurydice is Ruhl's version of the classic Eurydice and Orpheus tale.[20] It portrays an Alice in Wonderland-esque underworld, complete with talking stones and a Lord of the Underworld, who can be seen riding a red tricycle.[22] In keeping with the play's Greek origins, the Stones serve as a new take on a Greek chorus. The Stones comment on the action and warn the characters, but cannot intervene in any of the events. The play explores relationships, love, communication, and the permeability between the world of the living and the world of the dead, in a quest to discover where true meaning lies in life and thereafter.[20]

Passion Play[edit]

Her Passion Play cycle premiered at Washington's Arena Stage in 2005, directed by Molly Smith.[23] It was next produced by the Goodman Theatre and Yale Rep. Ruhl began writing Passion Play at age 21, while studying with Paula Vogel at Brown University. She did not finish the play until eight years later, after Wendy C. Goldberg and Arena’s Molly Smith commissioned the third act.[24] Passion Play made its New York City premiere in Spring 2010 in a production by the Epic Theatre Ensemble at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn.[25] Each part of the trilogy depicts the staging of a Passion Play at a different place and during a different historical period: Elizabethan England, Nazi Germany, and the United States from the time of the Vietnam War until the present.[26]

Dead Man's Cell Phone[edit]

Her play Dead Man's Cell Phone (2007) premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in a 2008 production starring Mary-Louise Parker. Its world premiere was at Washington D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in 2007.[27][28] It was subsequently produced by the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2008 and at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2009. The play had its UK premiere at The Arches (Glasgow) in June 2011. The play explores technology and the disconnect people are experiencing in the digital age:

“Cell phones, iPods, wireless computers will change people in ways we don’t even understand,” Ruhl stated. “We’re less connected to the present. No one is where they are. There’s absolutely no reason to talk to a stranger anymore—you connect to people you already know. But how well do you know them? Because you never see them—you just talk to them. I find that terrifying.”[2]

In the Next Room[edit]

In February 2009, In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) premiered at Berkeley Rep.[29][30] The play opened on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre with previews starting on October 22, 2009 and an official opening in November 2009. This marked Ruhl's Broadway debut.[31] The play explores the history of the vibrator, developed for use as a treatment for women diagnosed with hysteria. In the Next Room was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama[19] and was nominated for the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play, Best Featured Actress, and Best Costume.[32]

Ruhl explains,

"One physician quoted in the book [The Technology of the Orgasm] argued that at least three-fourths of women had ailments that could be cured by the vibrator. Which is kind of stunning. The economy for vibrators, even then, was vast; I mean, it was a million-dollar enterprise".[24]

Themes and style[edit]

In September 2006, she received a MacArthur Fellowship. The announcement of that award stated: "Sarah Ruhl, 32, playwright, New York City. Playwright creating vivid and adventurous theatrical works that poignantly juxtapose the mundane aspects of daily life with mythic themes of love and war."[33][34]

John Lahr, in The New Yorker, wrote of Ruhl:

But if Ruhl’s demeanor is unassuming, her plays are bold. Her nonlinear form of realism—full of astonishments, surprises, and mysteries—is low on exposition and psychology. “I try to interpret how people subjectively experience life,” she has said. “Everyone has a great, horrible opera inside him. I feel that my plays, in a way, are very old-fashioned. They’re pre-Freudian in the sense that the Greeks and Shakespeare worked with similar assumptions. Catharsis isn’t a wound being excavated from childhood.”[2]

In a discussion with Paula Vogel for BOMB Magazine, Ruhl described the psychology of her plays as "putting things up against's a more medieval sensibility of the humors, melancholia, black bile, and transformation." Rather than "connect the dots psychologically in a linear way," Ruhl prefers to create emotional psychological states through transformation of the performance space.[24]


She married Tony Charuvastra, a child psychiatrist in 2005.[2]


Original plays [35]

Awards, nominations and honors[edit]

She received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, with a cash award of $500,000 in 2006; Ruhl commented "...the money is truly astounding. The whole thing really does leave one speechless."[43]

Ruhl has been awarded the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award for 2016; the awardee is given a cash award of $200,000. The Steinberg committee said, in part: "Her work sparks conversation in audiences of all ages with its emotionally vivid language... Sarah Ruhl is unique. She fills her intelligent and highly theatrical plays with striking oddities and playful humor. Sarah is a prolific playwright of great distinction.[44]


  1. ^ Iglarsh, Hugh. "Family Affairs: Sarah Ruhl Brings Her 'Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical' Home to Piven Theatre Workshop", April 30, 2015
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Lahr, John (March 17, 2008). "Surreal Life: The plays of Sarah Ruhl". The New Yorker. 
  3. ^ "Ruhl", accessed September 27, 2016
  4. ^ "Springworks 2003 - Late: A Cowboy Song". clubbed thumb, inc. Archived from the original on 2004-09-01. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  5. ^ a b Hitchcock, Laura. (March 9, 2003). " Orlando review".
  6. ^ Komisar, Lucy. ""Orlando" is Ruhl's wildly clever and funny take on Virginia Woolf's Feminist Novel". 
  7. ^ Orlando], accessed September 27, 2016
  8. ^ Isherwood, Charles. "Who’s Afraid of Fluid Gender and Time?" The New York Times, September 23, 2010
  9. ^ "Sarah Ruhl". NewDramatists. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  10. ^ Al-Shamma, James. Demeter in the City Sarah Ruhl: A Critical Study of the Plays, McFarland, 2011, ISBN 0786484780, p. 184
  11. ^ "The Verdict: Critics Review Sarah Ruhl's 'The Oldest Boy', Starring Celia Keenan-Bolger" Playbill, November 4, 2014
  12. ^ Stasio, Marilyn. "Off Broadway Review: 'The Oldest Boy' by Sarah Ruhl" Variety, November 4, 2014
  13. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Yale Rep Announces Sarah Ruhl Premiere and 'Assassins'" Playbill, March 11, 2016
  14. ^ Scenes from Court Life YaleRep, accessed March 12, 2016
  15. ^ Levitt, Haley. "Sarah Ruhl's 'Scenes From Court Life' to Have World Premiere", August 31, 2016
  16. ^ Scenes from Court Life, accessed March 12, 2016
  17. ^ Chow, Andrew R. "New Sarah Ruhl Play to Premiere at Lincoln Center" The New York Times, September 26, 2016
  18. ^ Ruhl, Sarah (2007). The Clean House. Samuel French. 
  19. ^ a b "The Pulitzer Prizes | Citation". 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  20. ^ a b c Isherwood, Charles. "The Power of Memory to Triumph Over Death". nytimes. nytimes. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  21. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (June 18, 2007). "Sarah Ruhl's eurydice Opens Off-Broadway June 18". 
  22. ^ Ruhl, Sarah (2006). The Clean House and Other Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group. p. 384. 
  23. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Tableaux Vivant: Ruhl's Ambitious 'Passion Play', a cycle Gets World Premiere at Arena Stage" Playbill, September 3, 2005
  24. ^ a b c Vogel, Paula. “Sarah Ruhl". BOMB Magazine. Spring 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  25. ^ Gans, Andrew and Hetrick, Adam. (July 13, 2009). "Epic Theatre to Present New York Premiere of Ruhl's Passion Play",
  26. ^ Al-Shamma, James (2010). Ruhl in an Hour. Playwrights in an Hour. Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus. p. 23. ISBN 1-936232-36-7. 
  27. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Dead Man's Cell Phone Makes NYC Premiere; Mary-Louise Parker Answers Call"., February 8, 2008
  28. ^ Bacalzo, Dan. "Death Becomes Her",, May 30, 2007
  29. ^ Hurwitt, Robert (February 6, 2009). Theater review: 'In the Next Room', San Francisco Chronicle
  30. ^ Isherwood, Charles (February 18, 2009). "A Quaint Treatment for Women Wronged". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  31. ^ Hetrick, Adam (July 9, 2009). "Ruhl's In the Next Room Will Play Broadway's Lyceum Theatre".
  32. ^ Gans, Andrew; Jones, Kenneth. "2010 Tony Nominations Announced; Fela! and La Cage Top List". Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  33. ^ York, John. "Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play". Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  34. ^ "Meet the Class of 2006. Sarah Ruhl", accessed December 1, 2015
  35. ^ "An Evening with Award-Winning Playwright Sarah Ruhl '97, MFA'01". Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  36. ^ Morris, Steven Leigh (June 21, 2006). "Greek Love"
  37. ^ "Stage Kiss, 2010-2011 Season", accessed February 24, 2014
  38. ^ Isherwood, Charles, "They’re Carrying On as if It’s in the Script" New York Times, March 2, 2014
  39. ^ The Oldest Boy, accessed September 18, 2014
  40. ^ Gates, Anita. "Oh, a Happy Life if Back in Moscow" New York Times, September 30, 2011
  41. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Rotating Cast, Including Cherry Jones and Kathleen Chalfant, Will Be Part of Sarah Ruhl's 'Dear Elizabeth'" Playbill, October 15, 2015
  42. ^ Isherwood, Charles. "Review: In ‘Dear Elizabeth,’ Two Solitary Poets Commune" New York Times, October 30, 2015
  43. ^ "MacArthur “genius” Sara Ruhl opens up' The Clean House'" Time Out New York
  44. ^ "Sarah Ruhl to Receive Distinguished Playwright Award at 2016 Mimi Awards", September 26, 2016
  45. ^ "Winners. R", accessed December 1, 2015
  46. ^ Burd, Nick. "PEN Announces 2008 Literary Award Recipients". Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  47. ^ "The Lilly Awards. 2010", accessed December 1, 2015
  48. ^ Kochuba, Courtney. "Samuel French Awards Honors Sarah Ruhl, Keith Josef Adkins, and Kooman & Dimond", October 6, 2016

External links[edit]