SECOND FLOOR OF SARDI'S: A Drink With Douglas Carter Beane

By Robert Simonson
21 Feb 2013

Victoria Clark in Cinderella
photo by Carol Rosegg

Beane's Cinderella bears plenty of the playwright's trademark contemporary sass and epigrammatical wit — when the Fairy Godmother is transformed from a crazy old hag to a gorgeously gowned lady, she assures Cinderella: "There are a lot of crazy women inside beautiful dresses" — but not as much as one might expect.

"I think both shows [The Nance and Cinderella] are the first time I don't feel any pressure to be funny," said Beane. "I'm funny — touch wood — but I don't feel I have to come up with a funny line. If a line doesn't get a laugh, we just cut it and put nothing there. There doesn't have to be a laugh. Cinderella is, first and foremost, a romance." He won't even call The Nance a comedy, but refers to it, hedgingly, as "a tragic comedy. It's a bittersweet, sad, love story. But it's comic. Just call it a play. It's a play."

He added, with a laugh: "I'm just getting old. I'm running out of glib. I just can't be glib anymore."

Beane — like the early 20th-century theatre pros he frequently cites and seems to emulate — spends the theatre season, September to June, in the city. But when summer arrives, he decamps with his family to a lakehouse in central Pennsylvania, a politically conservative area he calls "Pennsyltucky." ("Been voting against their best interests for a century.")

"It sounds more glamorous than it is," he said. "But really, when summer comes, it's 'Everybody get in the car. We're going to Pennsylvania!'" Once there, he often writes on his front porch, staring out at the lake.

A couple times in the past year, that bucolic idyll was almost interrupted to tempting work opportunities. "They were both artistic directorships." In both cases, he didn't get the job, and he doesn't sound sorry about that. "I kinda can't do it. I've done it before." Does he ever miss his days as an artistic director of Off-Broadway's The Drama Dept.? "I do. But three people — two who have done it in the past, one who is doing it in the present — have said to me, 'You did it. You don't have to do it again. You're hitting your stride as a writer. You have to concentrate.'"

And so it's Broadway, which has its own benefits, including a Valentine's Day card Beane received from his daughter, after she had seen Cinderella: "To my poppy, who wrote the play with the really beautiful costumes."