Q&A: WENDY MACLEOD, “Women in Jeopardy!” Playwright

wendy-2Q&A: Wendy MacLeod

Wendy MacLeod is an Ohio-based playwright whose other works include The House of Yes, Sin and the Schoolgirl Figure, Juvenalia, and The Water Children. She is the James E. Michael Playwright-in-Residence at Kenyon College and Artistic Director of the Kenyon Playwrights Conference.

I’ve been told this is (loosely) based on a true story…

A few people have questioned the dark turns this purported comedy takes, but that was the real stuff.  There was a murder in our little Ohio town, and the body was found in a hollow tree.  Once the murderer was behind bars, I noticed that everyone was eager to show how close they themselves had come to the danger—they had worked out at the same gym as the murderer, they had gone to the Dairy Queen where the victim worked…

Why is the play set in Utah?

I need to know a place before I can set a play there, and I had gotten to know Salt Lake when I was in rehearsals at Pioneer Theater.  It offered the wilderness I needed for the final chase scene, and it offered the possibility of ridiculous Mormon rumors.  A new location just offers me different imagery and possibilities.

Any  scenes have a good story behind them?

Most of the first scene came from a real dinner party where we were first introduced to a friend’s unfortunate new boyfriend, who disturbingly resembled Christopher Walken and said the creepiest things.

What do you love about writing comedy? Is it different than writing other genres?

Honestly, I just begin writing a play and it decides whether it’s a comedy or not.  At a certain point in the rewriting process, the fundamental question becomes:  what’s the funniest thing that could plausibly happen here?

Can you talk about the evolution of this play?

The play grew out of a program at Philadelphia’s Arden Theater, The Writers Room, which commissioned a play with a guaranteed workshop production at the end of the residency.

The program also offered an audience the chance to see a script develop, so at various points in the rehearsal process we had the audience in the room, which is tremendously helpful for developing a comedy. (Though it was less helpful when one man urged me to change a line he found offensive—he insisted that the word “womb” would be funnier than the word “vagina.”  I disagreed.)

And then the first full production at Rochester’s Geva Theatre Center…

Sean Daniels did the premiere there, and was a tremendous dramaturg—he helped me to hone the story and cut the flab.  He is, as I’m sure Lowell audiences know by now, a gifted director of comedy.  He invented the character-driven interludes, the connective tissue between the scenes, that kept the play moving.

What do you love about writing for the stage?

I always sit where I can watch the audience watching the play, and I love seeing that look of anticipatory delight on their faces, and it’s even better when you see them laugh in such a way that they rock back and forth in their chairs, and look over at their companion to share the laugh.  I have seen people actually slap their knees watching this play.

Do you see the play as having feminist threads?

I’m afraid that making middle-aged women the protagonists constitutes a bold feminist act.


Women in Jeopardy! runs February 15 – March 12



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