The Collected Plays of Eric Samuelsen
Today marks two years since Eric left us.
It seems almost impossible that it’s been that long.
We are honored to have been Eric's artistic home. It seems appropriate to share today that Eric's entire body of work (well, the plays we could find copies of - his laptop remains an enigma!) has been published by Leicester Bay Theatricals and is now available as THE COLLECTED PLAYS OF ERIC SAMUELSEN.
Please click here for details.
Four of the eight volumes feature introductions from members of the Plan-B family: Artistic Director Jerry Rapier, Playwrights Melissa Leilani Larson and Matthew Ivan Bennett, and Educator Colleen Lewis.
Read on for the full text of each.
We miss you Eric.
JERRY RAPIER’S INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 3: SIX PLAYS FROM THE PLAN-B THEATRE COMPANY YEARS
Volume Three is comprised of AMERIGO, MIASMA, BORDERLANDS, A DOLL HOUSE, NOTHING PERSONAL, FAIRYANA, and the monologues "Spinning" and "Democracy" from (IN)DIVISIBLE.
I first read words written by Eric Samuelsen in early 2003.
I hadn’t even met him in person and yet I had a feeling he and I were going to spend a lot of time together.
Over the next 15 years, Eric became one of my dearest friends and the closest collaborator of my career.
We understood each other.
We trusted each other.
We loved each other.
He was my brothermentorfriendmuseguru.
Eric wrote with an enviable ease about Big Ideas - he could be Truthful with a Capital T and Intellectual with a Capital I and still guide his audience to a soulful place, a place of passion, a place where a true marriage of truth and intellect was possible - a place where you had no choice but to take pause, reexamine and choose how best to move forward.
There is not a misplaced comma in an Eric Samuelsen play. Everything is intentional. And purposeful. And powerful. He wrote the way people speak, created characters that felt like people we all know, and created worlds for them that felt both familiar and fresh. The artists who found their way into these plays could trust them, lean on them, give themselves over to them, and were truly elevated by them. Patrons would frequently ask, “When is the next Eric Samuelsen play?”
Eric was chronically ill during all but the first of his Plan-B productions between 2006-2017. He was in the hospital for most of 2018 and 2019. In an effort to save his life, his right leg was amputated below the knee in late August of 2019. It went well and he was hopeful - there was even talk of him going home. I was thrilled to share this news in The Lab (Plan-B’s monthly gathering of local playwrights) on Saturday, September 14, 2019. But things changed quickly. The following Tuesday, September 17, I was on a call getting ready for a rehearsal, when a text message from Eric popped through.
“Jerry, my physical status has seriously deteriorated, enough so that we have decided to pursue the hospice option. Don’t know how much time that leaves me, but enough time for the kids to gather. Thank you for the many years of fellowship, friendship, partnership, all of it joyful, all of it filled with love. Eric and Jerry, and Plan-B. It’s been a great run.”
I fell apart. hung up on whomever I was talking to (I can’t even remember who it was) and lost it. I called Eric once I had sort-of pulled myself together and headed to the hospital. I spent the rest of the day visiting with him and contacting the people he asked me to.
Eric passed away three days later.
It still seems unreal, impossible.
We still have so much to talk about.
I miss his wit.
I miss what he might have written next.
But mostly I miss my friend.
Thank goodness I - and now you - have these plays.
Jerry Rapier, Artistic Director
MELISSA LEILANI LARSON’S INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME FOUR: SIX MORE PLAYS FROM THE PLAN-B THEATRE COMPANY YEARS
Volume Four is comprised of GHOSTS, 3, CLEARING BOMBS, THE KREUTZER SONATA, THE ICE FRONT, and the as-yet un-produced MOUNT VERNON.
The first impression I had of meeting Eric Samuelsen was the sensation of walking into a wall of paper.
I was a new graduate student, and Eric was the chair of my graduate committee; we had an appointment to meet and chat about my program. I had seen Eric’s work on stage multiple times, but I had not met him. Standing outside of his office door that hot September day, I was suddenly nervous. This man that I was about to meet — this man that was about to become my teacher — he had done it. He was a playwright. He was prolific and clever and thoughtful, and his work got produced. Would I be able to do the same thing? Would he help me, or would he see through my thin confidence and dismiss me without another thought?
I hovered outside his office for several minutes before finally getting up the nerve to knock. He called to me to come in, and I opened the door to a wall of paper. It made sense in a way that I saw the work before I saw the man. There was paper everywhere — play drafts and paper drafts and student assignments. Where there was not paper, there were books. It was overwhelming and welcoming at same time.
Eric turned in his chair, nodded briskly, and invited me to sit. As we began to talk, it became clear that he would not dismiss me. He would, in fact, become a great defender of me and of my work. He would be a teacher, a mentor, and a dear friend.
Thinking back on it now, walking into that office was a perfect metaphor for what it might be like to walk into Eric’s mind: a finite space crammed to bursting with an impossible amount of knowledge. That same metaphor could be applied to the sheer volume of Eric’s work. He is one of Mormonism’s most prolific playwrights and writers; his work ranges in the thousands of pages.
In all of those thousands of pages, Eric did not shy from examining his faith, and in all senses of the word. It’s one of the things that makes an Eric play work: questions of faith, questions of doubt, questions of belonging. Eric knew that faith is not a monolith, and that there is power in asking questions. The theatre is a medium for questions, dramatic and otherwise. Eric used this to his advantage.
Plan-B Theatre Company’s mission is to provide a space to nurture and stage new plays by local writers. Eric flourished there. The plays he wrote and staged at Plan-B cover an incredible expanse of topics, but all share his typical hallmarks: real, believable, characters — particularly the women; effective, erudite, muscular dialogue; fascinating situations that encourage debate and warrant compassion. He often called Plan-B his artistic home; he clicked into place there in a way most playwrights can only dream of. It’s thanks to Eric and his gentle persistence that I too found my way to Plan-B, and my career has been the better for it.
The plays in this collection comprise only a portion of the significant work Eric did at Plan-B. Each is a perfect, crystalized slice of a particular world, carefully crafted in anticipation of an audience’s scrutiny.
Eric’s Ibsen translations are deft and fresh and complete. His take on GHOSTS is both a translation and adaptation; his characters wade knee-deep in moral ambiguity, as Ibsen intended; but Eric adds a layer of contemporary relatability that’s almost shocking.
3 is arguably one of the most important plays in Mormon drama. It comprises three short plays about very different women whose common feature is their LDS faith. Each vignette is whole and sharp and honest. Each woman is fully formed and so real that you see the tears glinting in their eyes when they sit beside you in sacrament meeting. Together, these stories are a harrowing chorus of heartbreak.
CLEARING BOMBS is a crash course in history, philosophy, and economics. For such a small play — three men debate while protecting a Cambridge rooftop during a World War II bombing raid — forgive the pun, but it fairly explodes with ideas and intelligence.
THE KREUTZER SONATA is perhaps one of Eric’s most complete pieces. Which is not to say his other plays are incomplete; rather, THE KREUTZER SONATA is more than a play. It’s an experience, both theatrical and musical, that meshes rage and madness and murder together — not to mention Tolstoy and Beethoven. The protagonist, Pozdnyshev, is not a hero by any stretch; he is difficult, and complex, and unlikable. It is not an easy show to mount, requiring not only a fantastic actor, but an equally fantastic pianist and violinist. The final product is, in a word, sublime. Why shouldn’t our greatest art require our greatest effort?
THE ICE FRONT was Eric’s last play produced at Plan-B. Like so many of his others, it is a human story rooted in history, telling the fantastic tale of a Norwegian theatre company’s resistance against the Nazis. The play boasts comedy and tension in spades, as well as a number of wonderful ensemble scenes that universities everywhere should be scrambling to stage. The theatre artists portrayed in The Ice Front are emblematic of Eric himself; like Eric, they are making art that questions and challenges the world around them.
No one has yet had the opportunity to experience MOUNT VERNON, as Eric died before it could be staged. I’m hopeful, however, that that status will change sooner rather than later. At its core, the play is a simple conversation between two men: Wash Malcom, a Black professor, and George Washington in the final hours of life. The premise is both theatrical and timely — Malcolm travels through time to confront Washington with a proposition that could ripple for generations.
Eric knew the power of the theatre is the power of possibility — that a good story, well told, can indeed change the world. He wanted to tell stories, all the time, and he was so very good at it. Let’s not forget: he was also a solid actor and a thoughtful director, and these talents informed his writing. An Eric play never tells you how feel, or what to do, or how to be. It just happens, unfolding like any ordinary day, allowing each audience member takes away from it what they need. He embraced the fact that people are complicated, both in life and on stage. He approached everything he did and wrote with compassion. He continued to teach me long after I was his student. While I’m brokenhearted that my friend is no longer on this plane, I’m so grateful that his plays are here. Because we need these plays. Your life will be better for seeing an Eric Samuelsen play. Read them. Study them. But mostly — Stage them. They are meant to be staged.
Melissa Leilani Larson, Playwright
MATTHEW IVAN BENNETT’S INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME SEVEN: SIXTEEN TEN-MINUTE PLAYS AND SIX OTHER SHORT PLAYS
Volume Seven includes the 10-minute plays "Behind the Blue Door," "Blood Pudding," "The Butcher, The Beggar, and The Bed-Time Buddy," "Dreamers," "Fingerprint Smile," "Five," "Foursquare," "Gaming the DMV," "Perfect Circle," and "Spoiled Cheese."
I met Eric on a warm spring evening in 2005, as we both awaited instructions for a 24-hour play slam. Even though it was warm, my hands ached with the cold with anxiety. I’d never written a 10-minute play overnight. I doubted whether I could. Sitting behind me in the Black Box theatre at the Rose Wagner, Eric Samuelsen was an oil-on-canvas portrait of calm. He’d done play slams before. His confidence might have made my anxiety worse, but then he introduced himself—gentlemanly as always—and, rather than stuffing me with advice, he merely made friends with me. I showed up to theatre—at 8 p.m., about to face a 9 a.m. deadline—thinking that I had to prove myself. Eric showed me that I should be myself.
That Eric was a good man was proven, I think, by his funeral. It’s the best one I’ve ever been to. There was applause. There was laughing. There was sweetness mixed with the mourning. That Eric was a good playwright is proven, I think, by the breadth of these short plays. They range from witty romantic comedy to intensely socially aware. They evince a knowledge of Greek theatre and mythology. And when I write “knowledge,” I mean the knowledge of honest long study and affectionate familiarity. His Cassandra is not a piece of imitation: it’s an original interrogation. Even the lighter fare in this collection—such as Cannibal Bondage Fiasco—will amaze you with their voracity of intellect.
Intellect is what I chiefly remember Eric for. I had the pleasure of acting in his full-length AMERIGO in 2010 and, one day, he turned up to rehearsal for a video interview to be taped on set. Without preparation—it seemed to me—he breezed in, seated himself in front of the camera, and spoke for minutes on 15th-century Christian eschatology. He spoke of how the history of the New World had been shaped by religious and cultural forces. I knew, of course, that the man was a distinguished professor, but listening to him, one would have thought that he taught history and not drama. Of course he also taught in the Religion department at BYU.
As a lover of the short form, I find so much to admire in this collection. Eric knew what made a short play work. His characters emerge instantly. His ideas are contained but deep. Some plays, like LAST CHANCE, quickly and expertly set up a comic pattern and then flip it on its head (something I’ve never even tried). I read THE BUTCHER, THE BEGGAR, AND THE BED-TIME BUDDY with particular relish, knowing that it became a longer piece called MIASMA. It’s amazing how many details, how much anger, and how much social consciousness is packed into this short gem. It’s lyrical in its repetitions and one can easily see how the world of the play was expanded.
I miss Eric’s feedback. I miss the knowledge—on every subject—that he brought to The Lab at Plan-B. I miss his kindness. Fortunately, I still have his plays.
Matthew Ivan Bennett, Playwright
COLLEEN LEWIS’S INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME EIGHT; THIRTEEN PLAYS FOR TEEN/YOUNG ADULT PERFORMERS
Volume Eight includes BUMPS, INTERSECTION, INVERSION, and STAYING THE GREEBLE.
I first met Eric Samuelsen in 1996, as a graduate student of theatre and film. He was my professor of theatre history, where I had the unique opportunity of being one of only three students in a small, specialized program. This afforded me the chance to discuss, and often debate, many aspects of theatre with Eric well beyond the scope of a traditional class. Eric quickly became a mentor, not only to me, but to the majority of students who were so fortunate to have him as a professor.
It was as a graduate student that my passion for working with young actors began. I was able to focus my degree on theatre for youth and selected Eric as one of the members of my thesis committee. During this time, I was able to examine, with Eric, many of the shortcomings I was discovering in finding material for young actors as performers and audience. As research for my thesis, and also as a reviewer of youth plays for a theatre magazine published through my university, I was reading hundreds of scripts intended for young actors and audiences. The vast majority of which I found to be extremely disappointing. From my reading, I began to see that when writing for youth, many playwrights had a tendency to create overly simple stories with messages driven home to a point of offense of the perceived intelligence of young people.
After graduate school I continued working in theatre and in 2004 created Theatre Arts Conservatory. This was a non-profit theatre school for young actors between the ages of 8 and 18, where hundreds of youth trained and performed until its closing in 2014. During my ten years running Theatre Arts Conservatory, I was consistently reminded of the difficulty in finding plays for young actors. It became clear that the best way to find interesting, challenging and timely works for students, was to commission scripts for them.
Through a partnership with Theatre Arts Conservatory and Plan-B Theatre Company, I once again had the opportunity to work with Eric. He had been writing original works for Plan-B, and I was lucky enough to act in a few of his short plays. Remembering our conversations from graduate school, I knew Eric would be the ideal writer of scripts for young actors. As I saw from his interactions with his own students, Eric possessed, not only a true understanding of young people, but a deep concern for their growth and a belief in the depth of their intelligence as they developed into adults.
I was very fortunate Eric agreed to write multiple short and full-length plays for the Theatre Arts Conservatory’s young actors. The students were always thrilled when they knew they would have the opportunity to be part of one of Eric’s plays. They frequently spoke of how the writing reflected their true voices, with storylines that were pertinent to their age group, and how they were always hoping for one of Eric’s twist endings. I was recently speaking with former Theatre Arts Conservatory student Rhiannon Ross, currently working as an actor in New York, who shared the following about her experience with Eric’s plays: “Eric had an incredible ability to write for young people. Never underestimating our intelligence or maturity while still understanding the unique experience of not quite being an adult. He saw us for who we were and where we were at in our lives, which is why he was so beloved by his students”.
The plays in this collection serve a variety of cast sizes with a diverse age-range, including late elementary to middle school in BUMPS through early college age in TAHOE. There is also an array of running times, with short fifteen-minute productions perfect for school settings, as well as full-length plays. I am thrilled that this collection will give many more young actors the opportunity to share Eric’s passionate and inventive voice. These are powerful, youth-driven stories. There is great joy in these works. I hope they continue to inspire your young actors as they did mine.
Colleen Lewis, Educator
VOLUME ONE: SIX PLAYS OF CHALLENGED FAITH, introduction by Tom Rogers
VOLUME TWO: FIVE MORE PLAYS OF CHALLENGED FAITH, introduction by Eric Eliason
VOLUME FIVE: SIX PLAYS OF SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE, introduction by Megan Sanborn Jones
VOLUME SIX: SEVEN MORE PLAYS OF SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE, introduction by Mahonri Stewart