Ex marks the spot

Producer and playwright Lenore Skomal on her new comedy about divorce, family issues and shared history

05 Aug 2019 | 02:18

When throwing a wedding for your child, a certain amount of drama is inevitable. Balancing the needs and wants of family, friends, and the anxious bride-to-be can be maddening. But when your former spouse unexpectedly shows up at your daughter’s wedding with her new fiancé, a whole new level of drama enters the picture. The ex-husband and ex-wife have to come face-to-face with their issues and shared history. Playwright Lenore Skomal explores these themes in her new comedy, “The Exes,” which is going into previews at Theatre Row on August 7. A professional writer for more than 30 years, Skomal has worked as a novelist, reporter and playwright, and is also the producer of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. We sat down with her last week to discuss her thoughts on divorce, the challenges of being a producer/playwright and keeping life in perspective.

What made you want to write about divorce, and a person’s relationship with their ex?

Well, I'm divorced. Most of the people I know are divorced, even if they don't admit it. I'm always surprised to find out that someone that has been happily married for maybe 25 years [says] "oh yeah, my first husband." Everyone has a first husband. It’s a lot more common in my generation than it was in my parents’. It’s a sad thing, and it’s an ending, but it doesn't necessarily have to be traumatizing, and the worst thing that ever happened to you. It doesn’t have to leave a hole in your soul that everything has to pass through. It can be something that, given the right perspective, can actually help you grow and understand yourself a lot better.

Around half of all marriages fail. Do you think marriage as an institution is still relevant?

Yeah. I do think it's relevant, because I don’t think endings have to be sad. We sort of have created this culture where we want to avoid pain. That's not new. Nobody really likes pain, but it's inevitable, you know? So, I don't think endings are bad. And I think certain people are in your life for certain reasons at certain times, and I'm sure anybody can relate to that, whether you marry them or not. It could be a long-term relationship, romantic or otherwise. It could be a friendship. When that ends, that's sad. But some people aren’t meant to be in your life forever, because people do change and grow.

Any way you can get real love in your life, we should all be open to it. And if it's with a ring on your finger, great. Because love is a wonderful thing, and if you have a healthy love, it doesn’t matter how it’s packaged.

You are writing as well as producing this play. What is it like producing your own work? What challenges have you met bringing this work from the page to the stage?

You have to take off your playwrighting hat to put on your producer hat. The hardest part of the producing curve has been having the confidence to be able to raise the money. There are playwrights who do vanity productions where they will use their own money to bankroll: renting the facility, all of that. It's pricey. But at the end point, they just want to see their own work up.

That's not what I wanted to do. I didn't want to have a vanity project. I wanted to have bona fide, SCC-approved investors. I had to learn about that, I had to hire the lawyer, I had to immerse myself in the culture to understand what the business aspect of it was and what I'm getting myself into.

Being a producer is a different animal altogether. Because it is steeped in the numbers. And it's steeped in the cost. And there’s always anxiety when it comes to that type of thing. The difference between a playwright/producer and someone who's just a producer is that the playwright/producer has to a hundred percent believe in their work. Because that’s the thing that always dogs you as a writer. We all have the demon, "Why are you doing that? You're an impostor." That was the challenge every step of the way: "Is this really good enough? Is it good enough to be in an Off-Broadway facility? Is it ready?"

Belief in your own work and in the project is paramount. But the beauty behind this process for me is that over the two years I have been doing it, I've learned how to believe in myself.

What discoveries have you made in the rehearsal process?

I haven't been allowed to go to rehearsals. That was [the director's] decision, and it was probably a good one. That's not unheard of, for playwrights to be asked not to go. Because you anguish over every failed line, and every dropped word. I’m the type of person that doesn't have the best poker face. And it can throw off actors, so I was asked not to go. And it was great; I only went to one.

But what I saw was that these actors had found these characters inside themselves. And it was crazy, because I had them in my head for two years, three years. And they have developed mannerisms, and all those things good actors do. That’s been extraordinary for me to see flesh and blood, like Frankenstein’s monster. You create something on the page, and it's like, "Ah! There it is!"

Being a playwright and an artist in general is a really tough pursuit. What keeps you going?

I think I'm at the age where I'm old enough to be able to let go of the small stuff. If I had done this forty years ago when I was in college or whatever, it wouldn't have happened. I’m fortunate enough to have people around me, especially my husband, who will say to me, “let this go; the larger dream is important.”

I've lived long enough where I see, even like the scariest things in my life have turned out okay. So I'm able to step back from it. The end of the day, you have to have an end to the day. You don't go to bed with your script, or your art, or whatever. You close the door on it, and you have to find a way to close the door.

The other thing that helps is waking up every morning and saying, “New day; yesterday didn't matter.” Nothing matters except now.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space.