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Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl
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.


  • Biography 1
  • Plays by Sarah Ruhl 2
  • Awards and nominations 3
  • Reviews 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Ruhl was born in Wilmette, Illinois. Originally, she intended to be a poet. However, after she studied under Paula Vogel at Brown University (A.B., 1997; M.F.A., 2001), she was persuaded to switch to playwriting. Her first play was The Dog Play, written in 1995 for one of Vogel's classes.[1] Her roots in poetry can be seen in the way she uses language in her plays. She also did graduate work at Pembroke College, Oxford.[1][2]

Her play Late: A Cowboy Song was produced by Clubbed Thumb in 2003.[3]

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".[4] Though this play is often described as a comedy, it is a more poignant story in which the characters are challenged to find joy in spite of death. It won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2004. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005.[5]

Her play Circle X Theatre.[6][7] 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.

"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 included words such as "ostracize," "peripatetic," "defunct"---are memorialized in the 2003 Eurydice)".[1]

Eurydice is Ruhl's version of the classic Eurydice and Orpheus tale. 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.[8] 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.

Ruhl is also known for her Passion Play cycle that opened at Washington's Arena Stage in 2005. It was next produced by the Goodman Theatre and Yale Rep. Ruhl began writing Passion Play at age 21, while studying with Vogel at Brown. She did not finish the play until eight years later, after Wendy C. Goldberg and Arena’s Molly Smith commissioned the third act.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

Her play Dead Man's Cell Phone (2007) premiered in New York City 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.[12][13] 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.”[1]

Other plays include Orlando and Demeter in the City.

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.[9]

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."[14]

In February 2009, her play In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) premiered at Berkeley Rep.[15][16] 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.[17] The play explores the history of the vibrator, developed for use as a treatment for women diagnosed with hysteria.

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".[9]

In the Next Room was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama[5] and was nominated for the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play, Best Featured Actress, and Best Costume.[18]

Plays by Sarah Ruhl

Original plays [2]

Awards and nominations


John Lahr

, writing 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.”[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lahr, John (March 17, 2008). "Surreal Life: The plays of Sarah Ruhl". The New Yorker. 
  2. ^ a b "Sarah Ruhl biography". Retrieved July 14, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Springworks 2003 - Late: A Cowboy Song". clubbed thumb, inc. Archived from the original on 2004-09-01. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  4. ^ Ruhl, Sarah (2007). The Clean House. Samuel French. 
  5. ^ a b "The Pulitzer Prizes | Citation". 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  6. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (June 18, 2007). "Sarah Ruhl's eurydice Opens Off-Broadway June 18". 
  7. ^ "Eurydice history". Retrieved July 13, 2009
  8. ^ Ruhl, Sarah (2006). The Clean House and Other Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group. p. 384. 
  9. ^ a b c Vogel, Paula. “Sarah Ruhl". BOMB Magazine. Spring 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  10. ^ Gans, Andrew and Hetrick, Adam. (July 13, 2009). "Epic Theatre to Present New York Premiere of Ruhl's Passion Play",
  11. ^ Al-Shamma, James (2010). Ruhl in an Hour. Playwrights in an Hour. Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus. p. 23.  
  12. ^ Jones, Kenneth (February 8, 2008). "Dead Man's Cell Phone Makes NYC Premiere; Mary-Louise Parker Answers Call".
  13. ^ Bacalzo, Dan (May 30, 2007). "Death Becomes Her",
  14. ^ "2006 MacArthur Fellows". John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  15. ^ Hurwitt, Robert (February 6, 2009). Theater review: 'In the Next Room', San Francisco Chronicle
  16. ^ Isherwood, Charles (February 18, 2009). "A Quaint Treatment for Women Wronged". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  17. ^ Hetrick, Adam (July 9, 2009). "Ruhl's In the Next Room Will Play Broadway's Lyceum Theatre".
  18. ^ "The American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards". May 1, 2000. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  19. ^ Morris, Steven Leigh (June 21, 2006). "Greek Love"
  20. ^ , 2010-2011 Season"Stage Kiss", accessed February 24, 2014
  21. ^ [2], accessed September 18, 2014
  22. ^ Hitchcock, Laura. (March 9, 2003). review"Orlando" .
  23. ^ Gates, Anita (September 30, 2011). "Oh, a Happy Life if Back in Moscow"
  24. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Rotating Cast, Including Cherry Jones and Kathleen Chalfant, Will Be Part of Sarah Ruhl's 'Dear Elizabeth'" Playbill, October 15, 2015

External links

  • Home Page for Sarah Ruhl
  • New Yorker article, March 2008
  • Profile and Production History at The Whiting Foundation
  • Paula Vogel (Spring 2007). "Sarah Ruhl". BOMB 99. 
  • , Bret Adams Ltd Artists' AgencySarah Ruhl
  • Sarah Ruhl at Pen American Center
  • Beyond Electricity, Toward Female Emancipation, New York Times - review of In the Next Room
  • MacArthur “genius” Sara Ruhl opens up The Clean House Time Out New York
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