Friday, August 14, 2015

Spotlight On...Jacob Marx Rice

Name: Jacob Marx Rice

Hometown: Oakland, CA

Education: Columbia University

Favorite Credits: I had an amazing opportunity to develop a couple plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. And my play Chemistry, which is a companion piece to Coping, won the Producer's Pick at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival and the Excellence in Playwriting Award at the New York International Fringe Festival, where it was selected for the Encore Series at SoHo Playhouse.

Why theater?: A theatre is one of the only places in modern life where a hundred strangers can laugh together. It’s also one of the few places where people are comfortable confronting the painful truths of being human. Put those together and you have dangerous magic.

Tell us about Coping: Coping is a comedy about suicide. I realize that’s an odd combination but I think death and grief are often weirdly comic. I’ve never been to a funeral where people didn’t laugh and make jokes. It’s a way of reaffirming that we are alive in the face of something as huge and terrifying as death. Coping follows Sarah, a young woman with OCD whose boyfriend kills himself. She’s trying to help plan the funeral and deal with her boyfriend’s family while also figuring out what something that huge and painful means for her and her relationship and her future. Plus there are lots of jokes.

What inspired you to write Coping?: It’s not a super fun story. I was working on Chemistry, a play about characters struggling with mental illness, for last year’s Fringe Festival. A friend of mine donated to our crowd funding campaign and I reached out to thank him. We emailed back and forth for a bit and made plans to get lunch. The next day he shot himself. Dealing with that while in rehearsals for a play about depression was really rough and writing Coping became a way of processing it all. There were a lot of moments of confusion and sadness and absurdity in real life that seeped into this play.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I really like theater that smashes all sorts of different things together on stage. I like dense plays that ricochet between comedy and tragedy and farce and weird theatrical tricks and beautiful imagery. I’m really inspired by the Irish playwrights, especially Connor McPherson, Mark O’Rowe, and Martin McDonagh (although I really wish they wrote better parts for women), and by people who are doing work that blends naturalism and formalism, like Anne Washburn, Amy Herzog’s recent stuff, Simon Stephens, Caryl Churchill, and Rajiv Joseph.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I love the artists I work with. I think they are some of the most brilliant and talented people I’ve ever met. But if it had to be someone I haven’t worked with, it would be either Les Waters or Lisa Peterson. They both have an incredible understanding of how to combine thoughtful storytelling with playful and inventive forms.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Punk Rock at MCC last season. I was feeling down on theatre at the time and after the show I kept trying to climb up light posts in the West Village because I was so exhilarated. It was so funny and so angry. It was the kind of theatre that hurts as much as it feels good. Plus, they had possibly the best transitions between scenes I’d ever witnessed.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I feel like Jennifer Lawrence would do an amazing job. She’s great in everything. The truth is that I make a very active effort to live my life so that it would make a boring movie. At some point, I realized that if I avoided the crazy things that made me miserable and tried to be happy, I could be much happier. I try to write the most explosive plays I can, and live the least explosive life possible.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original production of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. I realize that’s a ridiculous answer but that play literally drove people mad. There are stories of audience members being institutionalized during the show or of devils appearing on stage. Edward Alleyn, the actor playing Faustus, apparently wore a crucifix under his clothes to avoid actually summoning the devil. Imagine a world where theatre, or any art form, had that much power. Audiences now are so used to the conventions that the only way to shock them is by being incredibly gross or violent, which I think are both boring. But being in an audience that could be shaken to its core by poetry, that would be amazing.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  I try not to be guilty of my pleasures. I love terrible TV and comic book movies but I don’t feel guilty for that. There are much more useful things to feel guilty about.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A crazy person.

What’s up next?: I’m working on a commission about Jack the Ripper. It’s a period piece, horror play for a theatre in a haunted house. Hopefully it will go up in October. I’m having the best time writing it.

For more on Coping, visit