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'Poor Behavior' Is A Milestone For Playwright Theresa Rebeck, But She's Already Looking Ahead

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THERESA REBECK POOR BEHAVIOR
Jeff Biehl, Heidi Armbuster, Katie Kreisler and Brian Avers star in Theresa Rebeck's "Poor Behavior," now in previews at The Duke on 42nd Street in New York. | James Leynse

Theresa Rebeck will reach a personal milestone when her new play, “Poor Behavior,” opens in New York on Aug. 17. Still, having had 15 new works staged in New York, she says she’s hopeful for a “post-gendered” time when the fact that she's a female playwright doesn't generate headlines.

“It’s a challenging time in the theater to get new work done, and it’s a big privilege to have a body of work,” Rebeck, 56, told The Huffington Post in an interview. “There’s certainly no question that a woman is writing these plays, but hopefully when you’re falling into a play as an audience member, the gender of the playwright is irrelevant.”

Still, gender politics is one of many elements at work in Primary Stages’ Off-Broadway production of “Poor Behavior,” which stars Heidi Armbuster, Brian Avers, Jeff Biehl and Katie Kreisler. A dark comedy, “Poor Behavior” centers on two couples -- Ella and Peter, Ian and Maureen -- that spend a “not-so-idyllic” weekend in the country where accusations of infidelity arise. Ultimately, the play “raises questions of what is considered socially acceptable behavior and what is not” while examining deeper themes about “the ethical choices we make in our lives,” according to Rebeck.

Although the play’s subject matter seems to shy away from the traditionally comedic, Entertainment Weekly hailed “Poor Behavior” as “bitingly funny” and an “addictive, farcical drama” after it premiered in Los Angeles in 2011. Rebeck says the plot was inspired by “a really disastrous week” she spent in a country home with her husband and some friends, and while she has revised the piece since its debut, she’s nonetheless confident that the New York version, directed by Evan Cabnet, keeps her original concept “on solid ground.”

The show also marks Rebeck’s return to New York theater after the saga of NBC’s Broadway-centric musical drama “Smash,” which premiered amid dynamite buzz in 2012 but was canceled last year after struggling to find an audience. Rebeck, who created the series and served as executive producer and showrunner, controversially stepped down after the show’s first season, which had been generally well-received.

“I was really proud of the work that we did and I loved doing it, and I felt that we were successful,” Rebeck said. “It was a very challenging, complicated show to do, [but] there were decisions made that I didn’t have any part of.” In the end, however, she’s grateful: “It’s a crowded field in TV and it made a big noise.”

With “Poor Behavior,” Rebeck is happily focused on theater once again, even if her artistic prolificacy means she's always thinking ahead. Another new play, "Zealot," was just produced in California as part of the 2014 Pacific Playwrights Festival, while New Jersey's McCarter Theatre Center will revive "The Understudy," which opened on Broadway in 2009, this fall. While she’s “grateful” that having 15 plays produced in New York places her among an elite group of playwrights that includes David Mamet and Tom Stoppard, Rebeck believes her work’s greatest strength is its ability to instigate and provoke.

“There’s no way to walk away from this play without having an argument,” she said. “You have to come with someone so that you can go and have a drink and then an argument afterward, which I think is a great thing for theater to do.”

Pausing for a moment, she then quipped, “One drink will be fine, but two will be better.”

Primary Stages' production of "Poor Behavior" is currently in previews at The Duke on 42 Street and will open Aug. 17. Head here for more information.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article identified Rebeck as the first female playwright to have had 15 works staged in New York. Rachel Crothers wrote 28 plays that made it to Broadway prior to her death in 1958.

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