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The Realization of Emily Linder

By Gary Wien

originally published: 04/20/2015

The Realization of Emily LinderRichard Strand penned Butler, one of the best new works to premiere last year.  He returns to NJ Rep in April with The Realization of Emily Linder, a comic-drama about an eccentric, retired university professor who has come to the “realization” that she knows the exact day that she will pass away. 

She gathers her two daughters to her side to inform them of her imminent demise and to give each of them explicit instructions and assignments to fulfill prior to her earthly departure. We spoke to the playwright about Emily and the new play.

What was the inspiration behind this work.  Is Emily based on someone you know or work with?  All my characters are composites of people I know.  Mostly, Emily is me, although I’ve disguised myself so that I no longer recognize me.  I learned to do that from Jeff Sweet’s book on playwriting.  It’s really great advice.

Would you personally like to know the exact day you die? I would not.  I’m very uncomfortable about even setting a date for my retirement, which I suppose is inevitable, but I don’t care to admit that.  The only thing that makes sense to me is to assume I will go on forever and then act surprised when that doesn’t work out.

Do you think  someone actually have a life knowing that information? Maybe someone can.  Not me.

Emily is described as aneccentric.  How is she eccentric? She has obsessions – like the need to control the writing of her own obituary and a fixation with the movie Cat Ballou.  I think those quirks – which all of us have – have become magnified in Emily because she senses her own demise.  She knows that her brain doesn’t function as well as it once did and she misses her recently deceased husband on whom she relied more than she was aware.  Her fear of dying and her fading memory have caused her to focus on things that are familiar, and therefore reassuring, to her.  For that reason, Cat Ballou isn’t merely her favorite movie; it is the only movie she watches.    

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Some male playwrights have difficulty writing female characters.  In this play you have four.  You’ve also written female characters in the past.  Do you find yourself doing anything different when writing a female character?  Characters are defined by the choices they make.  As I’m writing a play, when my characters, male or female, are confronted by a choice, I always ask myself what choice I would make.  I never ask myself, “What would a woman do in this situation?”  Because, if I ask the latter question, the only answer I could come up with would be, “I don’t know.”  For me, focusing on what I would do is the only productive way to work.

You’ve had several plays produced in recent years.  How often do you write?  Do you work on one play at a time or multiple plays?   My writing has been very erratic.  I wrote a play called Clown in 1978.  Then a couple more plays in 1979 and 1980.  Then I quite writing for several years.  I was writing pretty consistently – maybe a play a year – from 1989 to 1999.  Then I stopped again for 12 years.  I wrote Butler in 2011 and, since that time, I have written six more plays.  But, right now, I couldn’t say whether or not I have one more play in me.  I hope so.

I keep a file of ideas for plays, each idea described in a single sentence.  But if I start working on one of those ideas, it is the only play I am working on.  I can’t imagine being able to clear my brain enough to work on two plays at once.  Are there people who can?

In your last play at NJ Rep (Butler), you had some wonderful moments for the actors to really shine.  Did you start out as an actor yourself?  How did you first get into playwriting? I did start as an actor.  When I started going to college my declared major was acting.  I think most people who work in theater, regardless of what discipline they ended up in, started off wanting to be actors.  But I’ve been interested in dramatic writing since I was very young – maybe ten.  I can remember writing short plays, in French, with a childhood friend – his name was Frank Ritt – when we were both in fourth grade.  We had a French teacher who would allow us to perform skits at any time provided they were written entirely in French.  We took advantage of that opportunity throughout fourth, fifth and sixth grade.  I could be deluding myself, but I think some of them were pretty good.

The Realization of Emily Linder Who are some of the playwrights that have inspired you over the years? I’ve thought about this question quite a lot.  I’ve answered it many times.  My answer has changed often, and I don’t think I’ve ever been quite honest about it.  But here’s what I think right now.  The older I get, the harder it is to influence my fundamental notions about what makes good writing.  I don’t think that is necessarily something I should brag about, but I believe it is true.  And, to take that premise even further, the writers who got to me when I started writing have had a more profound influence on me than those I encountered later in life.  I first started forming opinions about what constituted good dramatic writing when I was quite young – ten, eleven, twelve.  Now, to be sure, I hadn’t seen very many plays at that age, but I did watch a lot of television.  And I remember becoming aware that some of the writing on television was noticeably better than other writing.  Fortunately for me, some of the best television writing from that time survived in reruns, so I could watch the episodes many times.  If you keep watching the same episodes over and over, the mechanics of the writing starts to reveal itself. You can start to see the structure, and you can observe why some writing works and other writing doesn’t.  So, what was I watching?  The Twilight Zone and The Dick Van Dyke Show.  I know that Rod Serling and Carl Reiner – and the many other writers who contributed to those two shows – have had a more profound effect on my writing than anyone else.  I wish the answer were Arthur Miller or William Shakespeare or Mary Chase – all of whom I love.  But the truth is: it was Serling and Reiner.    

How important is it for a playwright to establish a relationship with a theatre like NJ Rep that focuses so much on showcasing new works? It’s everything, and it’s so hard to find.  Ideally, a playwright would find a theater that would want to do every play he or she wrote, but that’s not realistic.  Gabe and SuzAnne can’t do everything – and theaters that are as dedicated to new work as NJRep are few and far between.   I’m so grateful to have worked with NJRep – this will be my third time.  I just wish we lived on the same coast. 

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Center Players Presents "The Emperor's New Duds"
(FREEHOLD, NJ) --  Center Players Dessert Theater will present a family-friendly production of “The Emperor’s New Duds” at Center Playhouse, 35 South St, in downtown Freehold, NJ from December 7 – 16. A musical adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” the play was written by Bernice Garfield-Szita, who co-directed the production with Enid Bush.
Centenary Stage’s Young Performers Workshop presents 2018 Winter Festival of Shows
(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Godspell is composed of various musical parables from The Gospel. Jesus Christ recruits a group of followers and teaches them various lessons through song and dance. Toward the end of the second act, the show begins to follow a more linear narrative as Jesus is betrayed by Judas and eventually crucified. Performances are Sunday, December 9 at 5:00pm; Saturday, December 15 at 8pm and Sunday, December 16 at 7:30pm.
The Shakespeare Theatre Presents "The Winter's Tale"
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run from December 5 to December 30. 
American Theater Group Announces Full Cast & Creative For "Tell Them I'm Still Young"
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Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.

Broadway’s Mandy Gonzalez LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
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Event calendar
Saturday, Nov 17, 2018


THE GAY BLADES @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

HERMAN'S HERMITS STARRING PETER NOONE & THE BUCKINGHAMS @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

Nelson Riveros Trio: “The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery” @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Hawaiian Music and Hula @ 1867 Sanctuary at Ewing, Ewing - 8:00pm

Pop 2000 Tour @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

THE MACHINE PERFORMS PINK FLOYD @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 8:00pm


Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm

Swamp Boogie Trio @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm


Annie @ Broad Street United Methodist Church, Burlington - 8:00pm

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Annie @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 8:00pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Billy Bishop Goes to War @ Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, Morristown - 2:00pm

Kiss Me Kate @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Phoenix Productions Presents: The Hunchback of Notre Dame @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Enchanted April @ The Summit Playhouse, Summit - 8:00pm

Heathers, The Musical High School Edition @ Pebble Players, Oakes Center, Summit - 7:30pm

Junie B. Jones The Musical at Black Box PAC @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 11:00am

Into the Woods @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm

The Drowsy Chaperone @ Lauren K. Woods Theatre at Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 8:00pm


Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm


BALLET FOLKLORICO DE MEXICO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


ROALD DAHL’S WILLY WONKA JR. @ Ridgewood Ave School Theater, Glen Ridge - 1:00pm and 7:00pm


Mainebiz Health Care Forum @ Mainebiz Health Care Forum, Newyork - 8:00pm

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