100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater

100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write

This collection of mostly mini-essays is a great find for anyone interested in either writing or theatre. Ruhl, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her play “In the Next Room,” displays her skills at language, views of playwriting, and her both playful and utterly serious response to the stage.

Several titles display her marvelous sense of humor: “Bad Plays and Original Sin,” “On Nakedness and Sight Lines,” and “Watching My Mother Die on Stage.” (Her mother is an actress.)  Others are more philosophical: “God as Audience: A Non-syllogism,” “Is There an Ethics of Comedy, and Is It Bad When Comedies Make People Laugh?” “On Knowing,” and “On Lice.”  Whoops, the last one isn’t philosophical, but very practical.

The smallest essay is three words not including the title. I quote in full from “An Essay in Praise of Smallness”: “I admire minimalism.”

As someone who attends plays often, I learned a lot from this collection including new trends in theatre, ceilings on stage anyone? Also discovered the meaning of gobos. It’s the sounds of crickets on stage.

Ruhl has to be one of the few playwrights who welcomes audience members sleeping during her plays. As she notes, “I have enjoyed the sensual fullness of their heads lolling, leaning back, sometimes almost onto my lap. I have wanted to hold their heads as they loll onto my seat, give them a short hair massage.” No, she is not being snarky. She really wants them to enjoy the fullness of their solo dreams, hopefully at least encouraged by her own.

Speaking of audiences, she also examines the nature of that necessary part of theatre. Can there be an audience of one, she postulates.  She also wonders how to write for an audience where many do not speak English.

One lovely part of the book is Ruhl’s description of raising children while being a playwright. One phrase of her mother’s from long ago haunts her, “Why bother having children if you don’t spend any time with them?” Ruhl does spend time with her kids, but also needs to work and travel without them. Several of the most charming essays include her children’s reaction to live theatre, especially drama in the making.

Finally, she includes some advice for bad poets. She tells them to enroll in playwriting school and create characters outlandish enough that their reciting of bad poetry seems perfectly natural.

This fun collection will entertain you as much or more as a night at the theatre. But why not both?