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Essay

Backstory: Anne Washburn, a 15-Year Tour

Anne Washburn possesses an uncanny genius for conjuring theatrical worlds that arrest and fascinate, even on unfamiliar wavelengths. A master of the gradual release of information, she trusts her audience enough to disorient us, for a time, charting her course with quiet precision even as she leads us down the rabbit hole. Here’s a gloss of her projects to date.

The Communist Dracula Pageant (2001)
American Repertory Theater (MA)

“By Americans, for Americans, a play about the Romanian Revolution of 1989 with hallucinations, phosphorescence and bears.” Washburn puts 20th-century Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in conversation with 15th-century proto-Dracula Vlad Tepes to deliver a satire about national identity and revisionist history.

Apparition (2003)
Chashama

Modern ghost stories told in fragments — and often in utter darkness — alternate with bouts of fake Latin in this blood-curdling contemporary gothic.

The Ladies (2004)
Dixon Place

A commission from the documentary theater company The Civilians, The Ladies illuminates the lives of first ladies Eva Peron, Madame Mao, Elena Ceausescu, and Imelda Marcos through gossip, tape recorders, torch songs, and spectacle.

The Internationalist (2004)
13P

An American businessman traveling abroad expects to find romance and achieve personal enlightenment, but instead loses himself in a tangle of unfamiliar language and custom. Performed, in part, in a made-up foreign language, this was the first play produced by the built-to-implode producing collective 13P.

I Have Loved Strangers (2006)
Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks

True prophets, false prophets, and non-prophets battle for the salvation of Ancient New York in this stirring, paranoiac play, inspired by the Book of Jeremiah and the exploits of the Weather Underground.

Orestes: A Tragic Romp (2010)
Folger Theater (Washington, DC)
Two River Theater Company (NJ)

Euripides’ tragedy is rendered afresh for contemporary audiences in Washburn’s boisterous transadaptation. 

The Small (2010)
Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks

Described by the playwright as a story about “worlds opening up and closing in and turning inside out and shifting,” The Small chronicles the struggle of a man to assemble a reality from his dreams. 

A Devil at Noon (2011)
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville (KY)

Inspired by the life and writing of science fiction author Philip K. Dick, this vertiginous play plumbs the considerable depths of one writer’s dangerously powerful imagination, as he attempts to finish his book and understand why his refrigerator magnets are losing their cling...

Mr. Burns, a post-electric play (2013)
Playwrights Horizons

What will endure when the cataclysm arrives — when the grid fails, society crumbles, and we’re faced with the task of rebuilding? A paean to live theater, and to the resilience of Bart Simpson through the ages, Mr. Burns is an animated exploration of how the pop culture of one era might evolve into the mythology of another.

10 out of 12 (2015)
Soho Rep.

A troubled Valentine to theater and the people who make it, 10 out of 12 opens a window into that most tedious of theatrical traditions: the tech rehearsal. Under Washburn’s penetrating gaze, an obsessively detailed chronicle of painstakingly calibrated minutiae unfolds into something sacramental.

Iphigenia at Aulis (2015)
Classic Stage Company

Staged in its premiere with original music by The Bengsons, Washburn’s piercing transadaptation hews close to Euripides’ text but resonates as though it were written yesterday. “He is our contemporary,” says Washburn of her ancient Greek collaborator. 

 

Sarah Lunnie
Literary  Manager