Supporting creative work by women
Eve Lederman is an author, playwright and monologist. Her first play Let It Come Down will receive its premiere as part of the Dream Up Festival at Theater for the New City in New York September 8 through 16. Lederman drew inspiration from a true malpractice case.
Eve spoke to Works by Women about writing a play based on real-life material, her memoir and the incredible women she’s working with on Let It Come Down.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Let It Come Down is based on a real-life malpractice case. What inspired you to write the play and how do you make legalese dramatic? How did you find the transcripts of the case?
EVE LEDERMAN: “All great art comes from a sense of outrage” according to one of my favorite actresses, Glenn Close, and that was my jumping off point. Reading the transcripts, I was immersed in a story that left me angry and distraught, and yet I realized I had a treasure trove of material and ready-made dialogue along with a complex character to unmask. I then blended the depositions with fictionalized therapy scenes and toyed with the timeline so the viewers’ allegiance is tugged back and forth as the protagonists’ power struggle unfolds. The story has shades of Oleanna and I similarly hope to inspire fist fights among the audience!
Sculpting the legalese was a challenge. First I had to comb through perhaps 1000 pages and mark what I wanted to use. All sorts of systems failed me—colored post-its, different highlighters. Eventually I had to come to know the depositions—to read them so many times that they were familiar and I could see what I wanted to pull, anticipate where I’d put it and later envision how it would play against the therapy dialogue. Whittling it down was difficult and took many rounds of revisions to extract the most compelling material. Then it required fine tuning—erasing verbosity and ensuring that responses sounded like real conversation. Depositions can meander and get lost in minutiae–there’s no patience for that on the stage!
I’m keeping the origin of the transcripts close to the vest for the moment—when the show makes it to Broadway, I shall reveal all!
WBW: What does Let It Come Down explore?
EL: The play has multiple thematic layers. The first looks at the ways in which the therapeutic relationship is altered in the digital age with participants’ open-book, online presence. How does this affect the course of therapy in which the concept of “boundaries” was once sacrosanct? The play tackles the ramifications of this shift when neither doctor nor patient is prepared or equipped to deal with an indelible online presence.
I’m also fascinated by the dynamics of the therapeutic relationship in which two flawed and damaged people exist in the bubble of a treatment room; they don’t interact outside of that space and no one in the outside world ever sees them together. Add in a dollop of transference and you’ve got a seductive love more powerful and volatile than any romance. Transport that into the courtroom and…KABOOM! How do you know who’s telling the truth?
Lastly, in the fictionalized therapy sessions in the play, I delve into the real life ramifications and complexities of childhood sexual abuse and strive to shed light on the magnitude of its horror on both an individual and global scale.
WBW: You are also a performer/monologist. Tell me about writing the play, and the differences and similarities of creating material for yourself.
EL: The main difference for me is reflected in the process. For my monologues, I know the arc of the story, and I sit and craft every word start to finish. Then I memorize and rehearse it, hoping to make it sound conversational. With the play, I’ve learned to sit at the computer with nothing to say and see where the characters take me. With playwriting I’m also inspired by things I hear or read in the news—for instance, I read an article debating whether pedophilia is an illness or a crime; I gave that dispute to my characters and let them hash it out.
WBW: Your memoir Letters From My Sister: On Life, Love and Hair Removal was published last year. How do you decide what format material should take–novel, play, monologue etc.?
EL: My writing usually starts with a personal experience, then gets embroidered and transported from one medium to another. There are pieces of the book in my monologues; lines from my monologues in the play. For instance, I did a spoken word piece about stumbling onto something in my father’s closet that I shouldn’t have seen, in between the tennis rackets and four-legged underwear (good for an additional 10 years of therapy!). I told that story on stage as a monologue, sprinkling in a family relic from the book about my mother, while exploring my feelings about encountering said item. In my second play, that discovery evolved into confrontational dialogue between the father and daughter characters.
The book is a series of emails my sister and I wrote back and forth to each other, but they still retain a storytelling essence. The homeless man in front of the grocery who refused my offer of a Luna bar because “it’s for women”; the rabbi passing me on the street who informed me I had schmutz on my tuchos; the class I took at the Learning Annex on how to break into porn (just in case this playwriting thing doesn’t work out)—these stories can live on the page or the stage, depending on how I retell them.
WBW: What’s next for you?
EL: I have the first draft of a new play waiting in the wings, which was inspired by the recent deaths of my brother and mother from the same cancer during the course of a year. The story takes place during one afternoon in a hospital room with the son on a ventilator, and follows a family’s entanglements, stories and secrets, bringing to life extraordinary occurrences within ordinary circumstances. Sitting at the computer was a roller coaster between horror and hilarity, because amidst the heartbreak lived this nostalgic family lore I wanted to celebrate. I’m calling it a death-defying comedy and hope it lives up to George Bernard Shaw’s edict: “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh.”
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
EL: This is my first play and I’ve been very lucky that’s it’s been on a fast track with a reading, workshop and festival appearance in the span of 10 months. When I started writing I was blithely unaware of the abysmal outlook for female playwrights until I stumbled on the statistics and then attended a panel on the topic. I think having blinders on for a while actually helped to keep me methodically pushing forward.
I was quite affected by CBS’s decision not to broadcast Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s historic Tony wins and acceptance speeches. That, to me, smacks of a larger and more pervasive issue facing women in theater beyond artistic opportunity.
Roles for older women also pose a challenge, and I hope to make a small dent in that as both my plays offer meaty material for women over 60.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
EL: Seeing the incredible talent, exuberance and dedication of the women I’m working with. Jana Robbins, who plays the lead as the therapist, is a triple threat on Broadway as an actor, director and producer and has had a long, illustrious career. My director Katherine M. Carter brings such incredible insight, vision and humanity to the work that I have to believe such intrinsic talent will be recognized. Then there’s passion of the other women involved in the show who put in numerous hours and incredible attention to detail on a showcase budget—our associate producer and social media wizard Holly Rosen Fink; mesmerizing cast members Francile Albright and Kelly Jean Clair; our meticulous SM Phoebe Duncan; costume designer Caitlin Cisek; sound designer Beth Lake. Every time we face an obstacle in this production, these women band together like a pack of wolves to overcome it. How can that not give you hope?
For information and tickets to Let It Come Down, visit SmartTix.com.
Francile Albright and Jana Robbins
Photo by Andrew Cohen