dEBORAH ZOE LAuFER
Deborah Zoe Laufer wanted to be an actress, and for the first
thirteen years of her professional career, she was. She acted in
regional theatres, played a nurse on the soap opera Port Charles
and even tried her hand at stand-up comedy. “I’ve always written,
but I never thought I could actually be a playwright,” she says.
“It was one of those jobs that I just admired too much, like being
an astronaut: it would be really fun to fly to the moon, but it’s
not something I could ever do. Every day I’m still surprised that
I get to do this.” She began to write plays while she was pregnant
with her first son, and an encounter with Marsha Norman at a
writers’ conference in Montana led to an invitation to enroll in the
playwriting program at Juilliard, where Norman is co-director.
Soon Laufer had launched the career that she never really believed
Read Laufer’s plays and you might be able to detect hints of the
stand-up comedian and the wannabe astronaut: her writing often
blurs the boundary between the possible and the impossible,
exploring questions of faith and science with quirky humor and
unbridled imagination. Her plays follow in the great tradition of
American family dramas, but they’re also disarmingly funny and
deeply concerned with the practice of belief. Fortune, a romantic
comedy featuring a storefront psychic and a desperate client,
poses the question of whether we can control our own destinies.
The Last Schwartz—Laufer’s first professional production, which
premiered at Florida Stage—follows four Jewish siblings struggling
to reconcile religious and cultural identity with their own values,
lives and ambitions. In End Days, the imminent apocalypse forces
a dysfunctional family (which includes a born-again Christian
mother who talks to Jesus while her daughter chats with Stephen
Hawking) to find common ground. “I think all my plays are about
by Deborah Zoe Laufer tolerance,” Laufer says. “They’re about whether it’s possible to
directed by Casey Stangl believe something strongly without excluding those who believe
“What if you wrote one song and you lived off it your whole life, With Sirens, Laufer looks into a marriage that has lasted over a much more easily than a spouse.
and you lived well, but you couldn’t write another one?” Deborah long period of time. She imagines an amazingly vibrant and funny Music is second only to smells for Sirens explores new territory, but it also reinforces Laufer’s distinctive style with the fierce,
Zoe Laufer wondered. In Laufer’s comedy Sirens, Sam’s wife Rose world in which a serious question can be asked: When the past is triggering memory; many scientists even funny curiosity that has always marked her work. Instead of religion, another institutional
was the inspiration for the passionate love song, “Rose Adelle”— longer than the future and when ardor turns to comfort, how can put it first. We all have those songs in the stronghold is in the foreground—marriage. And, like her other plays, Sirens deftly
maybe you’ve heard it? (You know, the one that was recorded by you find a way to be happy with what you have? Eternity sounds backs of our heads. The ones that remind invites the fantastical, absurd and impossible into its familiar familial world; it bears the
Willie Nelson, the Pogues and Billy Joel.) He wrote it back when really great in principle, but it might be just interminable. us of our giddy young loves—requited unmistakable stamp of a Deborah Laufer play.
they were dating to impress her. Twenty-five years later, Sam has or not. With some songs every lyric
another hit in his head, but he’s struggling to write it down. He’s in Now that Rose and Sam’s son has left for college, they are lurching and chord change and whispered aside Theatres across the country have taken a liking to Laufer’s writing. Florida Stage was one of
trouble. toward their empty-nested future. A mother herself, Laufer unintentionally caught by a microphone her first supporters, and it is a relationship that continues. “They’ve been really phenomenal
empathizes with their predicament. “In some ways you’re desperate is burned into memory. And then there to me,” she says. End Days, which has gone on to receive more than ten productions since
Instead of turning to Rose for inspiration, Sam tries to grab onto for your kids to grow up and be independent and all that,” she are those songs where the words and the it debuted there in 2007, was published in two different collections of best new plays and
a wisp of a memory of a fervent romance he had long ago. And explains, “And in some ways you can’t even remember what it was melodies may be mystically lost to the ages, earned The American Theatre Critics Association Steinberg citation, an award given
then he turns to Facebook, wiling away the days playing Lexulous like before they were here. I just haven’t seen a lot of plays that but we grasp for them. That’s the siren call annually that honors the best new plays produced at regional theatres outside of New York
with younger women while searching for the pretty girl he knew a really deal with ‘What Now?’ after the kids move out. Not just the of nostalgia. City. In fact, Laufer’s first visit to the Humana Festival was when she came to accept her
thousand years ago in high school, the one who made him feel the pain of the kid moving out, but the ‘Then What?’” Both Sam and Steinberg citation on the stage of the Pamela Brown Auditorium. “I remember calling my
kind of giddy emotions that must be expressed in song. This, as you Rose want to recapture a sense of the romance they had back when Too often, we lose sight of the people who husband and saying, ‘I’m going to spend the next year trying to figure out how to get back
might imagine, is not good news for Rose. The song “Rose Adelle” they were younger, but they seem to be going about it separately. matter most, those who stand right next here,’” Laufer recalls.
is always on the radio, in the elevator, ringing as a cell phone tone, It’s entirely possible Sam and Rose might crash onto the rocks if to us, simply because it seems they’ve
on her mind. It’s a time capsule, a hermetically sealed and captured they can’t find a way to come back together. always been there. We forget to watch So far, so good. 2010 marks Laufer’s third consecutive trip to the Festival. Last season,
moment, a perfect recollection of the time in which Sam was most them change, and therefore can’t change following her Steinberg citation in 2008, she was one of six playwrights commissioned to
in love with her. The song is a source of comfort that what she and And “Rose Adelle” is always playing somewhere, reminding all with them as we all grow older. In Sirens, write Brink!, an anthology piece about rites of passage that was written for Actors Theatre’s
Sam once had was real, but it is also disheartening proof that what who hear it of those love-struck, early times in a romance when Laufer dares us to remember our past while Apprentice Company. This year, Sirens opens the Humana Festival. “I’m thrilled,” she says.
they have now is, well, maybe not enough. everything is new. Those feelings of infatuation and obsession are, finding a way to embrace the future—and “It’s better than I ever could have imagined.”
as yet, uncluttered by the detritus of real life, and are therefore the to live in the present.
When you spend a lifetime with someone, you amass a shared store perfect feelings to capture in a pop song. After those feelings have —Zach Chotzen-Freund
—Julie Felise Dubiner
of memories, and those memories can get confused. As Laufer mellowed, to write a new song involves remembering, living in the
says about her own husband, “There are stories that I think I was past for awhile. The lure of the past, the memories of youth, are so
there for when in fact I wasn’t. At a certain point, his history is my tempting. Seriously, those memories never get a little pudgy in the
history, because I’ve spent more years with him than without him.” middle or lose their hair. Those lost loves can be mythologized so
actors theatre of louisville 34th Humana Festival of New American Plays