Playwright Richard Greenberg's Triple-Play Season Was Nurtured in an Unlikely Workplace

By Jonathan Mandell
24 Mar 2013

Emilia Clarke in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Photo by Nathan Johnson

"He's a brilliant juggler," says Meadow.

Greenberg disagrees. "I'm barely a mono-tasker," he says. When he has to multi-task, he says, he gets bronchitis. He thinks he may be handling things better than he used to, though. "This time I had bronchitis only for six weeks," and it was before the crunch of rehearsals and rewrites. "The greater anxiety was before it was underway because I had no idea how it was going to work."

When Holly gets "the mean reds," she goes to Tiffany's and finds it calming. Greenberg retreats to the Moonstruck Diner, his neighborhood hangout for as long as he has lived in Chelsea, which is about a quarter of a century, after graduating from Princeton, dropping out of Harvard graduate studies in literature, and getting a degree from the Yale School of Drama.

"This is a very New York thing, diners," Greenberg says over a muffin and small fruit salad at the 23rd Street eatery. "People talk about alienation in the city. Diners are a place where you feel comfortable, an extension of your house. My first agent, Helen Merrill, used to call this place my office."

Indeed, it was at the Moonstruck that Greenberg first got together with Scott Frankel after seeing the very last performance of the composer's Broadway musical Grey Gardens, hoping the two could figure out a project on which to collaborate. "Within minutes I blurted out 'Far From Heaven.'" The film, starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid, is about a housewife in the 1950s who discovers that her husband is attracted to men — and that she herself is attracted to an African-American neighbor.

"There's an emotional intensity in the film that seems as if people are on the verge of singing all the time." The conversation with Frankel happened over five years ago; Kelli O'Hara is set to star in the Playwrights Horizons production in May. "Musicals take forever," Greenberg says. "I was determined to change as little as possible, but it turned out I had to do some original stuff for the stage."

It was also at Moonstruck that Greenberg met Colin Ingram, the producer of an adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's on the West End. "He came to me, wanting to start from scratch." That meant ignoring not just the London production, but the 1961 movie starring Audrey Hepburn, and for certain the 1966 Broadway musical, which starred Mary Tyler Moore and had a book written by Edward Albee, but is remembered as one of the worst flops in Broadway history; producer David Merrick shut it down before it opened, after just four preview performances. Instead Greenberg focused on the novella. "When I read the book I thought, 'this is so theatrical, and the plot is so strong.'" His main change was to make explicit what he sees as implicit in the book; the lead male character "is a gay man who is in love with a woman."


Previous 1 | 2 | 3 Next