Cincy native and longtime New Yorker Theresa Rebeck invites her hometown into her artistic process

Staged reading part of 'Cincy in NYC' week

Editor's Note: WCPO arts and entertainment reporter Matt Peiken is in New York City and will be tweeting as he follows arts and business leaders working to market the Queen City to the Big Apple. You can follow his tweets here.

NEW YORK —Theresa Rebeck wanted one more opportunity to examine her newish play, a comedy titled “Fool,” to listen for lulls in the humor and take notes on places in the script that could use some tightening.

Table readings of new plays happen all the time in New York without fanfare or audiences. For the sake of “Cincy in NYC” week, Rebeck, a Cincinnati native who has lived in Manhattan for nearly 30 years, opened this piece of her artistic process to the public.

On Friday, in a little 12th-floor dance studio south of Times Square, it was business as usual—audience notwithstanding—for the playwright, a handful of actors and the artistic director of Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park . About 50 people were gathered on folding chairs, roughly split down the middle—on one side New Yorkers, on the other people who'd traveled from Cincinnati for "Cincy in NYC" events.

“Normally, I would have just called up some actor friends and had them over to my house (for the reading),” Rebeck said afterward. “This wasn’t really ideal. I couldn’t take notes because (for the sake of the audience) I had to read stage directions.”

Rebeck hasn’t lived in Cincinnati since graduating from Ursuline Academy in 1980. Her writing for stage and screen has soared ever since she graduated from Brandeis University. She’s had 20 of her plays produced, several of them to wide critical acclaim, and her writing credits appear on 15 television shows and films. Rebeck’s parents and one of her sisters still live in Cincinnati.

Blake Robison, Playhouse’s artistic director, was there on Friday, as much to scrutinize the play for a potential staging down the road as to give the Playhouse a presence in New York City during a week dedicated to Cincinnati’s cultural offerings.

“Most playwrights will tell you it takes two or three productions for a play to really settle into what it’s supposed to become,” he said. “But I’m interested in this. We’ll see.”

Rebeck’s play, “Fool,” is a two-act farce built around two jesters, an inept Medieval king and a murderous plot. It’s a funny play, mixing some of the linguistic turns one associates with royal aristocracy with modern colloquialisms and tropes. All the while, Rebeck manages to touch on current tensions ranging from intellectual property rights (jesters copying one another’s antics) to bullying, classism, economic inequality and the comedian’s pet peeve of false laughter.

“Fool” premiered earlier this year in Houston, and while most of the heavy lifting on it is behind her, Rebeck knows she isn’t finished.

“You spend a lot of time going ‘I know there’s a laugh in there somewhere—I know there is,’ and you just keep working it til you find it,” Rebeck said. “In Houston, we learned to balance the farce and schtickiness with the humanness of it. If you don’t believe the jesters could really get their heads chopped off, it doesn’t work.”

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