Who she is: Award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and avid horse- woman Darrah Cloud is as down-to-earth as she is talented. After meeting her in 2013 when she debuted her latest play, “Our Suburb,” at Theater J in Washington, DC, we sat down for a Q&A.
What she does: “I grew up in Skokie, Illinois, and I got out of there as fast as I could, thinking that it was the most boring place in the universe,” Darrah admits. “When I eventually went back, I began to realize that behind those sensibly boring doors, some incredible conversations were taking place.”
Why she does it: “Most importantly, a 1970s event took place here, when a group of neo-Nazis from the Southside of Chicago tried to march through town,” she explains. “I wanted to pay homage to my neighbors and to the struggles going on behind those doors. I had seen “Our Town” around that time and thought, “Here’s a wacky idea … how about a play called “Our Suburb.” I got thinking, what did a suburb mean 30 years ago—what does it mean now? The idea took off from there.”
Darrah Cloud Has the Whole World in Her Hands
By Hope Gibbs, Author
Truly Amazing Women Who are Changing the World
Born in Northern Illinois, screenwriter and playwright Darrah Cloud has a dual Master of Fine Arts degree in English and Theater from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
We met her in 2013 when she debuted Our Suburb at Theater J in Washington, DC. An homage to Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” this world premiere invites audiences to suburban Illinois in 1977, when the neo-Nazis threatened to march on Skokie.
As two families prepare for Christmas and Hanukkah, two teenagers fall into an interfaith romance, and find themselves absorbed in a growing menace that turns to heartbreak, headlines, and then, magically, new hope, in this whimsical, innovative update of an American classic.
This playwright’s work debuted on the American stage in 1982 with the acclaimed “The House Across the Street.” A review in The New York Times said:
“Among the more bizarre news stories to haunt our culture in recent years are those follow-up features that appear after the arrest of a mass murderer. In these stories, reporters ask the neighbors of a Texas sniper or a so-called Son of Sam whether they noticed any odd behavior on the killer’s part during his months of heinous crime. The answer is inevitably no. Right up until the end, it seems, these fellows were shy, well-mannered types who minded their own business and helped little old ladies with their groceries.
“In the very sick, very funny first act of ‘The House Across the Street,’ a new play at the Ensemble Studio Theater, a young writer named Darrah Cloud examines the absurd dimensions of this paradox. ‘House’ is set in a Chicago suburb and is loosely inspired by the John Wayne Gacy case. It tells of a typical all-American family, the Fortunes, who wake up to discover that the nice man across the front lawn has raped and strangled 31 boys and then buried them in every crevice of his home. Although the family’s living-room window looks right into the murderer’s house, no one ever noticed ‘anything out of the ordinary.’ So what if the man poured a new concrete floor in his basement every week? Maybe he was just doing his bit to keep up property values.”
Her second show was The Mud Angel, a play The Times called “knee-deep in symbolism and sexuality, as Darrah Cloud studies the interwoven relationships among a mother, her three children, and a horse named Shadow. In this bizarre middle-American Gothic tale, the horse has all the best lines.”
That led to the next play, her breakout hit, called The Stick Wife, a play concerning the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala., in which four African-American girls were killed. It secured her place among feminist playwrights of note in the United States.
Other hits include “O Pioneers!” which was filmed for “American Playhouse” with Mary McDonnell in the lead role. Another hit, “Hearts Are Wild,” a rock musical with composer George Griggs, opened in Pittsburgh at City Theater in January 2006, and Cloud is also the writer of “Sabina,” a chamber musical about Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein.
Disney was also drawn to Cloud, commissioning her to create a dramatization of their classic Snow White, which played at Disneyland.
“The theme throughout all of my work is the social concerns of women’s lives, says Cloud—which is the reason why she is our Truly Amazing Woman of the month in the March 2014 issue of BeInkandescent magazine.”
“My early plays of the 1980s and 1990s depict women’s struggles to gain autonomy within a culture of socially prescribed and oppressive roles, as well as their efforts to find and employ authentic voices to break the silence of sexual repression,” Cloud shares, noting that later works depict strong, intelligent, self-emancipated women who defy traditional stereotypes and succeed on their own merits and efforts.
This decade she’s created even more works of note, including “Our Suburb,” which ended its world premiere in January at the Jewish Community Theater J in Washington, DC.
What inspires her to come up with her ideas?