Sarah Ruhl's Dear Elizabeth Scans the Poetry of Two Hearts, at Yale Rep

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29 Nov 2012

Jefferson Mays
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Ruhl, 38, is also extraordinary. She has twice been a Pulitzer finalist, for The Clean House in 2005 and In the Next Room, or the vibrator play in 2010. In the Next Room was also a Best Play Tony nominee.

In writing Dear Elizabeth, Ruhl says, she "didn't change the text of the letters much. I arranged them. I edited them slightly. Occasionally I had to change chronology. But I love and respect these writers so much that I wasn't going to wreak havoc with their words."

Ruhl says Bishop has "always been a touchstone to me. I hadn't known Lowell as well. What attracted me to them was this dialectic between them where you have Lowell, who sort of almost started the confessional movement in poetry" — poems of intimate personal revelations — "and Bishop, who was so reserved and restrained. And the way that played out in their poetry and their letters."

There is "this incredibly beautiful letter Lowell writes saying that not asking her to marry him 'might have been for me, the one towering change, the other life that might have been had.' He makes this beautiful confession about what his feelings for her were, and she responds by talking about the shopping she's doing in New York, and why she finds America so depressing, and she really doesn't address the context of his letter. There's this subtext, the dance, the parrying, where he takes an advance and she takes a sidestep emotionally."

It's fortunate that they maintained their distance, Ruhl says. "I don't think they could have gotten along. They would have demolished each other."

(This feature appears in the December 2012 subscription issue of Playbill magazine.)

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