Off-Broadway Shines a Light on Playwright Tristine Skyler

Off-Broadway Shines a Light on Playwright Tristine Skyler Over the past few years the Worth Street Theatre has struck gold with risky productions of new plays by unsung young playwrights.
Tristine Skyler
Tristine Skyler

Its 2001 staging of Christopher Shinn's Four made that writer's name in New York circles. A 2002 presentation of Marlane Meyer's The Mystery of Attraction prompted an extension and an Obie Award.

With The Moonlight Room, the first play by 32-year-old Tristine Skyler, the company many have its biggest success to date. The show opened at the tiny Tribeca Playhouse (where nearly every Worth Street venture begins) to enthusiastic reviews. On March 1, it transferred to midtown's Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row courtesy of Arielle Tepper and Freddy DeMann—the first such commercial move for the nonprofit.

The honor is not lost on Skyler, a native New Yorker from a family of New Yorkers. "I wrote this play about New Yorkers, and all I had ever hoped for was a production in New York," she said. "And I got it. The fact that it has moved on from there was nothing I ever expected. I feel like I've been in the bonus since last November."

The compact two-act drama focuses on the roller-coaster emotional ride of two teens—a confused boy flirting with the criminal element and an insecure girl who secretly loves him—as they sit out the night in a Manhattan hospital's waiting room, waiting for news about their friend, who is inside fighting for his life. Throughout the tense ordeal, they navigate fraught relationships with various parents and siblings, included the girl's resentful divorcee mother; the hospitalized boy's angry father; and the boy's step-brother, a medical resident with a button-down mind. Featured in the cast are Laura Breckenridge, Lawrence James, Kathryn Layng, Mark Rosenthal and Brendan Sexton III. Rosenthal and Layng recently won Lortel Award nominations for their performances.

Skyler, a graduate of Manhattan's elite The Chapin School, and Princeton University, took more that four years writing The Moonlight Room. She came to playwriting by way of acting, a career she began at age six when she appeared in a commercial for Nabisco cookies.
"I very much wrote this play as an exercise to see if all of the theatre that I had attended and loved, and all of the plays I had read, even the plays I had performed in—if I could use that experience to teach myself how to write in that medium," explained Skyler, who has also acted, produced and written for the screen. She said the troubled characters were not based on anyone she knew but "people she knew of and heard about." After finishing the play, she began the arduous process of the sending the script out, trying to interest theatres and producing entities. After a promising reading in Los Angeles, her boyfriend felt confident in giving the play to his lawyer, who happened to sit on the board of Worth Street.

Skyler has been happy with the move to Midtown. "Since I haven't been through this before, it only exceeded my expectation. Everyone rose to the occasion and grew with the new space. It's really exciting to see it in a more traditional theatre. The actors and I joke about the building next door to the Tribeca Playhouse, where you could hear the people next door walking up and down the stairs and the dog barking."

One New Yorker who may have heard that hound is Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Skyler's brother is Hizzoner's press secretary. One night Bloomberg was coaxed—along with his girlfriend and former mayor Ed Koch—down to the cramped, not exactly luxurious quarters of the tiny Off-Broadway house. Perhaps a special, roomier seat was ferried in for the vaunted politico's comfort? Skyler laughed. "He didn't get one," she said.