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Sarah Ruhl

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Sarah Ruhl
Ruhl in 2017
Born (1974-01-24) January 24, 1974 (age 50)
EducationBrown University (BA, MFA)
Occupation(s)Playwright, professor, essayist
Tony Charuvastra
(m. 2005)
AwardsMacArthur Fellowship
PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award
Susan Smith Blackburn Prize
Whiting Award
2016 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award

Sarah Ruhl (born January 24, 1974) is an American playwright, poet, professor, and essayist. Among her most popular plays are Eurydice (2003), The Clean House (2004), and In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) (2009). She has been 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 Drama and she received a nomination for Tony Award for Best Play. In 2020, she adapted her play Eurydice into the libretto for Matthew Aucoin's opera of the same name. Eurydice was nominated for Best Opera Recording at the 2023 Grammy Awards.

In 2018, Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship, co-authored by Max Ritvo, was published by Milkweed Editions.[1] Her most recent play, Becky Nurse of Salem (2019) premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Her memoir Smile was listed as one of Time magazine's 100 Must-Read Books of 2021.[2] She currently serves on the faculty of the Yale School of Drama.


Early life[edit]

Ruhl was born in Wilmette, Illinois. Her mother, Kathleen Ruhl, studied theater at Smith College[3] and 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.[4]

Beginning in the fourth grade, Ruhl received dramatic training at the Piven Theatre Workshop, in Evanston, Illinois.[5] On the occasion of a 2015 production at Piven of her Melancholy Play, Ruhl credited the institution with teaching her about the role of language and narration in theater.[5] Ruhl attended Interlochen Arts Camp for several summers in her youth.[6]

When Ruhl was twenty, in August 1994, her father died of cancer after fighting the disease for two years, an event that would have a profound impact on her and her art.[7] Ruhl had intended to become a poet, but 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.[8] She graduated from Brown University with a Bachelor of Arts in English (1997), with her undergraduate work including a year spent at Pembroke College, Oxford.[7] She worked a variety of jobs for the next two years, including teaching arts education in public schools, before returning to Brown for her Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting (2001).[7]

Sarah Ruhl currently teaches at David Geffen School of Drama and lives in Brooklyn with her family.[9]



Orlando, an adaptation of the novel by Virginia Woolf, was commissioned by the Piven Theatre Workshop and premiered in Evanston, Illinois in May 1998 featuring Justine Scarpa as Orlando.[10] Director Joyce Piven later helmed the show again in March 2003 at The Actors' Gang, Hollywood, California, with Polly Noonan taking on the title role.[11] The play was produced Off-Broadway by the Classic Stage Company in 2010.[12][13][14] In 2015, Orlando premiered for the Sydney Theatre Company at the Sydney Opera House with actress Jacqueline McKenzie playing the lead.[15]

The 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.[16] The two plays are Ruhl's stage adaptions of Anton Chekov short stories.[17]

Late: A Cowboy Song was produced by Clubbed Thumb (New York City) in 2003.[18]

The Cornerstone Theater Company (Los Angeles) 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.[19][20][21]

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.[22][23]

Her play Scenes from Court Life, or The Whipping Boy and His Prince premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre on October 1, 2016 in previews, officially on October 6, and ran to October 22, 2016. The play, directed by Mark Wing-Davey, involves "privilege and politics in both 17th century Britain and current day America."[24][25][26][27] The play was presented by the graduate acting class at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in November 2015.[28]

Her play How to Transcend a Happy Marriage premiered Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater on February 23, 2017 in previews, officially on March 20, 2017, directed by Rebecca Taichman.[29] The cast featured Lena Hall, Marisa Tomei, Brian Hutchison, David McElwee, Naian González Norvind, Omar Metwally, Austin Smith, and Robin Weigert. The play, which takes place in New Jersey, involves two married couples.[30][31]

For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizon on August 18, 2017 (previews), directed by Les Waters and featuring Kathleen Chalfant and Lisa Emery. The play had its debut at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in May 2016[32] and then with the Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit in Chicago in May 2017, starring Ruhl's mother Kathleen Ruhl.[33]

Becky Nurse of Salem premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre on December 19, 2019, directed by Anne Kauffman and featured Pamela Reed as the title character.[34]

She is an active member of New Dramatists, a development space for new playwrights that is in partnership with the NYU Tisch Graduate Acting Program.[35]

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".[36] It won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2004 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005.[37]


Eurydice (2004) was produced Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre in June to July 2007.[38] Prior to that it had been staged at Yale Rep (2006), Berkeley Rep (2004), Georgetown University, and Circle X Theatre.[39] 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:[8]

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.)[8]

Eurydice is Ruhl's version of the classic Eurydice and Orpheus tale.[38] 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.[40] 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.[38]

In 2020, Ruhl adapted the play as a libretto for a new opera composed by Matthew Aucoin. It premiered at the Los Angeles Opera on February 1, 2020.[41] and at the Metropolitan Opera on November 23, 2021.

Passion Play[edit]

Ruhl's Passion Play cycle premiered at the Arena Stage, Washington, D.C. in 2005, directed by Molly Smith.[42] It was next produced by the Goodman Theatre (Chicago) and Yale Rep (New Haven). 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.[43] 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.[44] 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.[7]

Dead Man's Cell Phone[edit]

Dead Man's Cell Phone (2007) premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 2008 starring Mary-Louise Parker. Its world premiere was at Washington D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in 2007.[45][46] It was subsequently produced by the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2008 and at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2009. The play received a 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."[8]

In the Next Room[edit]

In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) premiered at Berkeley Rep in February 2009.[47][48] 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.[49] 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[37] and was nominated for the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play, Best Featured Actress, and Best Costume.[50]

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.[43]

The play then moved to Sydney, Australia and premiered for the Sydney Theatre Company with Jacqueline McKenzie in the title role. The production was directed by Pamela Rabe.[51]

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."[52][53]

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."[8]

In a discussion with Paula Vogel for BOMB Magazine, Ruhl described the psychology of her plays as "putting things up against Freud ... it'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.[43]

Personal life[edit]

In 2005, Ruhl married child psychiatrist Tony Charuvastra. He taught a course at NYU on marriage and divorce and sometimes included In the Next Room on his syllabus.[8] Ruhl and Charuvastra have three children: Anna and twins William and Hope.[54]

Awards, nominations and honors[edit]

Ruhl was awarded the Residency 1 program by the Signature Theatre Company in 2019. This involves "a year-long intensive, exploration of a writer's body of work."[55]

In 2006, Ruhl received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship with a cash award of $500,000. Ruhl commented: "...the money is truly astounding. The whole thing really does leave one speechless."[56]

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.[57]


Original plays [62]
  • Dog Play (reading)[63]
  • Snowless[63]
  • Melancholy Play (2001)
  • Virtual Meditations#1 (2002)
  • Passion Play (2003 and 2004)
  • Eurydice (2003)
  • Late: A Cowboy Song (2003)
  • The Clean House (2004)
  • Demeter in the City (2006)[64]
  • Dead Man's Cell Phone (2007)
  • In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) (2009)
  • Stage Kiss (2011)[65][66]
  • Two Conversations Overheard on Airplanes [short] (2013)[67]
  • The Oldest Boy (2014)[68]
  • Scenes from Court Life, or The Whipping Boy and His Prince (2016)
  • How to Transcend a Happy Marriage (2017)
  • For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday (2017)
  • Becky Nurse of Salem (2019)
  • Letters From Max (2023)


Other works[edit]

  • 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write on Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater, Farber and Farber (2014)
  • Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship, (co-authored with Max Ritvo), Milkweed Editions (2018)
  • Eurydice (libretto), opera, (composer, Matthew Aucoin), (2019)
  • 44 Poems for You, Copper Canyon Press, (2020)
  • Love Poems in Quarantine, Copper Canyon Press, (2022)
  • Smile: The Story of a Face, Simon & Schuster, (2021)[72]


  1. ^ Ruhl, Sarah (2018). Letters from Max : a book of friendship. Ritvo, Max, 1990-2016 (First ed.). Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed Editions. ISBN 9781571313690. OCLC 1022984264.
  2. ^ "'Smile' Is One of the 100 Must-Read Books of 2021". Time. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  3. ^ "Smith Alumnae Quarterly Spring 2018 Page-45". saqonline.smith.edu. Retrieved 2022-03-22.
  4. ^ Lahr, John (2008-03-10). "Surreal Life". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  5. ^ a b Iglarsh, Hugh (April 30, 2015). "Family Affairs: Sarah Ruhl Brings Her 'Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical' Home to Piven Theatre Workshop". Newcity Stage. newcitystage.com.
  6. ^ "Interlochen alumna receives prestigious playwriting prize | Interlochen Center for the Arts". www.interlochen.org. Archived from the original on 2016-10-06.
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  10. ^ Hayford, Justin (11 June 1998). "Orlando". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  11. ^ a b Hitchcock, Laura. (March 9, 2003). " Orlando review". Curtainup.com.
  12. ^ Komisar, Lucy. ""Orlando" is Ruhl's wildly clever and funny take on Virginia Woolf's Feminist Novel". Nytheatre-wire.com.
  13. ^ Orlando lortel.org, accessed September 27, 2016
  14. ^ Isherwood, Charles. "Who’s Afraid of Fluid Gender and Time?" The New York Times, September 23, 2010
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  20. ^ Al-Shamma, James. Demeter in the City Sarah Ruhl: A Critical Study of the Plays, McFarland, 2011, ISBN 0786484780, p. 184
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  25. ^ Scenes from Court Life YaleRep, accessed March 12, 2016
  26. ^ Levitt, Haley. "Sarah Ruhl's 'Scenes From Court Life' to Have World Premiere" theatermania.com, August 31, 2016
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  28. ^ Scenes from Court Life tisch.nyu.edu, accessed March 12, 2016
  29. ^ Chow, Andrew R. "New Sarah Ruhl Play to Premiere at Lincoln Center" The New York Times, September 26, 2016
  30. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Casting Announced for Sarah Ruhl’s New 'Happy Marriage'" Playbill, January 10, 2017
  31. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Sarah Ruhl’s 'How to Transcend a Happy Marriage' Begins at Lincoln Center Theater" Playbill, February 23, 2017
  32. ^ Janiak, Lily. "Berkeley Rep’s “For Peter Pan” never takes off" sfgate.com, May 28, 2016
  33. ^ For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday theatreinchicago.com, retrieved August 15, 2017
  34. ^ Janiak 13, Lily (December 20, 2019). "Review: A mostly bewitching 'Becky Nurse of Salem' at Berkeley Rep". Datebook. Retrieved 2022-03-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  35. ^ Binney, Sarah (June 18, 2019). "NYU Tisch Partners with New Dramatists to Develop and Premiere New Theatre Works".
  36. ^ Ruhl, Sarah (2007). The Clean House. Samuel French.
  37. ^ a b "The Pulitzer Prizes | Citation". Pulitzer.org. 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-20.
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  39. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (June 18, 2007). "Sarah Ruhl's eurydice Opens Off-Broadway June 18". Playbill.com.
  40. ^ Ruhl, Sarah (2006). The Clean House and Other Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group. p. 384.
  41. ^ Swed, Mark (February 3, 2020). "Review: At L.A. Opera, Matthew Aucoin's 'Eurydice' almost has it all". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 February 2020.
  42. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Tableaux Vivant: Ruhl's Ambitious 'Passion Play', a cycle Gets World Premiere at Arena Stage" Playbill, September 3, 2005
  43. ^ a b c Vogel, Paula. “Sarah Ruhl". BOMB Magazine. Spring 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  44. ^ Gans, Andrew and Hetrick, Adam. (July 13, 2009). "Epic Theatre to Present New York Premiere of Ruhl's Passion Play", Playbill.com.
  45. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Dead Man's Cell Phone Makes NYC Premiere; Mary-Louise Parker Answers Call". Playbill.com, February 8, 2008
  46. ^ Bacalzo, Dan. "Death Becomes Her", Theatermania.com, May 30, 2007
  47. ^ Hurwitt, Robert. Theater review: 'In the Next Room', San Francisco Chronicle, February 6, 2009
  48. ^ Isherwood, Charles (February 18, 2009). "A Quaint Treatment for Women Wronged". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-20.
  49. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Ruhl's In the Next Room Will Play Broadway's Lyceum Theatre". Playbill.com. July 9, 2009
  50. ^ Gans, Andrew; Jones, Kenneth. "2010 Tony Nominations Announced; Fela! and La Cage Top List". Playbill.com. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  51. ^ "Orlando". Sydney Theatre Company. Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  52. ^ York, John. "Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play". Theatremirror.com. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
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  55. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Signature Theatre Welcomes 5 New Residents" playbill, March 28, 2019
  56. ^ "MacArthur “genius” Sara Ruhl opens up' The Clean House'" Time Out New York
  57. ^ "Sarah Ruhl to Receive Distinguished Playwright Award at 2016 Mimi Awards" broadwayworld.com, September 26, 2016
  58. ^ "Winners. R" whiting.org, accessed December 1, 2015
  59. ^ Burd, Nick (24 April 2008). "PEN Announces 2008 Literary Award Recipients". Pen.org. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
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  61. ^ Kochuba, Courtney. "Samuel French Awards Honors Sarah Ruhl, Keith Josef Adkins, and Kooman & Dimond" breakingcharactermagazine.com, October 6, 2016
  62. ^ "An Evening with Award-Winning Playwright Sarah Ruhl '97, MFA'01". Brown.edu. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  63. ^ a b Al-Shamma, James (2009). Ruhl in an hour. Hanover, NH: In an Hour Books. ISBN 978-1-936232-36-9.
  64. ^ Morris, Steven Leigh (June 21, 2006). "Greek Love" LAWeekly.com.
  65. ^ "Stage Kiss, 2010-2011 Season" goodmantheatre.org, accessed February 24, 2014
  66. ^ Isherwood, Charles. "They’re Carrying On as if It’s in the Script" The New York Times, March 2, 2014
  67. ^ Jones, Kenneth (2012-11-12). "Humana Festival Will Stage Plays by Sam Marks, Jeff Augustin, Mallery Avidon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Will Eno". Playbill. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  68. ^ The Oldest Boy lct.org, accessed September 18, 2014
  69. ^ Gates, Anita. "Oh, a Happy Life if Back in Moscow" New York Times, September 30, 2011
  70. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Rotating Cast, Including Cherry Jones and Kathleen Chalfant, Will Be Part of Sarah Ruhl's 'Dear Elizabeth'" Playbill, October 15, 2015
  71. ^ Isherwood, Charles. "Review: In ‘Dear Elizabeth,’ Two Solitary Poets Commune" New York Times, October 30, 2015
  72. ^ Feng, Rhoda (2021-10-15). "Emotions Take Flight in "Smile: The Story of a Face"". Chicago Review of Books. Retrieved 2022-01-11.

External links[edit]