The play’s the thing

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann explores contemporary topics by putting them onstage

The play’s the thing

Catherine Trieschmann

“Comedy has been in my tool box, but it wasn’t until I turned 40 and had kids that I turned to writing comedy,” playwright Catherine Trieschmann (MFA ’01) muses.

“For me, comedy is the way characters perceive themselves versus how they really are; that gap about their delusions is funny.”

Trieschmann’s latest play—a comedy about small-town church life, politics, gossip, amateur artists and a $20,000 prize, titled “The Most Deserving”—premiered at the Denver Theatre Center in October with an off-Broadway production already slated.

Over the past decade, Trieschmann has written eight plays that have been performed at venues all over—from the Bush Theatre of London to the New Theatre of Sydney (Australia), from the South Coast Repertory in Orange County, Calif., to the New York International Fringe Festival and such mid-America venues as Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and the American Theatre Company in Chicago.

Her work confronts contemporary hot-button issues. “How the World Began” is about the firestorm that results when a new teacher makes an offhand comment about the origins of the universe in a small Kansas town recently felled by a tornado.

“My plays are concerned with theological issues,” she says, “questions I’m concerned with in my own life. For example, if God exists, how do we explain natural disasters and suffering? I wrestle with that issue.”

Even though Trieschmann’s plays plunge into controversies, she doesn’t take ideological stances. Though she shares feminist concerns, she says her plays don’t make statements about gender: “When I’m writing, I don’t think about it. Geography affects my writing more; my characters come from where I live.”

Trieschmann’s work was featured in the Best New Playwrights of 2009, and she won the 2012 William Inge Theatre Festival’s New Voices in the American Theatre Award. “She has a special knack for creating characters who are slightly quirky and capable of doing things we almost anticipate, but that we relish as thorough surprises,” says Stanley Longman, UGA drama professor.

And she’s had the good fortune of patronage from some major theatres, including commissions from the Denver Center Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club and South Coast Repertory.

“Nonprofit theatre is my bread and butter,” she says, “It’s a hybrid between commercial, Broadway-style theatre and the literary world. It’s great to have them invest in me over time.”

Trieschmann’s theatrical scripts are published in the U.S. and the U.K., she wrote the screenplay for the film “Angel’s Crest” and she’s currently writing a regular column called “Parenting & Playwriting” for American Theatre.

A native of Athens, Trieschmann now lives in Hays, Kan., with her family. Her children are now occupied during the day, one in day care and the oldest in first grade, so she’s able to write full time. Her latest commission is a new adaptation of Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was set in Kansas in 1900.

“I’m going to explore Kansas history and images of those days when it was written and put my own take on the material. It should be fun!”

—John W. English, a professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Georgia, is a frequent contributor to GM.