For the second time, playwright Renee Calarco is nominated for theatreWashington's helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical. In 2007, Calarco won the Charles MacArthur award for her play "Short Order Stories." This time, her new play, "The Religion Thing," is in contention.
"The Religion Thing," an exploration of the impact of faith on relationships, premiered in 2012 at Theater J, as the inaugural work in Theater J's "Locally Grown: Community Supported Art From Our Own Garden Festival." The play was directed by Joe Calarco, her brother.
Calarco, in conversation with the Examiner, opined about her work.
JD: What moved you to write "The Religion Thing?"
RC: A few years ago, I read an article about people who do peer-to-peer marriage counseling. Because I have a twisted sense of humor, I immediately thought, “wouldn’t it be hilarious if these marriage counselors have a really lousy marriage?” So I wrote a jokey 10-minute play about a couple who did this kind of counseling. The play eventually became a one-act. Then a full-length. The marriage counseling “joke” fell by the wayside as I explored other themes and problems between the couple. I honestly kind of backed into the topic of religion—it wasn’t my intention to go there.
JD: What surprised you, or what did you learn, from the full production of "The Religion Thing?"
RC: I learned so much from the actors because they’d thought so fully about the characters and found things in the text that I wasn’t aware of.
JD: What are the joys of working with your brother, Joe, as a director?
RC: We know each other really well and understand each others’ working vocabulary. Also, I know that he’s always going to stage something that will take my breath away. It’s almost always a surprise and it always works.
JD: Why and when did you decide to become a playwright?
RC: I started doing improv in the late 1980s. I still teach it. Improv and playwriting are really the same disciplines—you’re telling stories with dialogue. I started writing plays in the late 1990's. It was a natural progression from improv to playwriting.
JD: Does teaching improv and playwrighting influence your playwriting, and if so, how?
RC: Improv teaches you to generate lots of material and not worry if it’s terrible. That helps a lot.
JD: What else would you like readers to know about you or your work?
RC: My short one-act, "Bleed", is going to be playing in rep with Ally Currin’s "Benched," and Rachel Axler’s "Smudge" at Pinky Swear Productions this season.
The 29th Annual helenHayes awards, a program of theatreWashington, are presented on April 8, 8pm at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. For tickets and information, go to www.theatrewashington.org