Monday, May 7, 2018

2018 Interview with Playwright Jane Anderson

Playwright Jane Anderson was revered for the Baby Dance and is currently represented at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura with the Baby Dance: Mixed. In our conversation she tells us about the urgency of the updated, practically new play.

Will you talk at length about the play and why the update at this time?

I wrote the original Baby Dance in 1989 and the main theme of the play was about the class divide in America – white America, that is.  The adopting couple from Los Angles were affluent, educated and liberal. The birth couple were desperately poor, uneducated and living in a trailer park in the south. Both couples were white and the conflict between them was cultural and economic.

Many years later, Jenny Sullivan, who directed the original production, came to me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a reading of the play with an African-American cast. It was to be a part of a series sponsored by Bonnie Franklin who wanted to do color-inclusive staged readings of plays that originally had all-white casts. I liked the idea but I clearly needed to make some adjustments to the text because the white, southern couple made some very choice racist remarks. I also wanted to make this more than just an exercise in plugging in actors of a different color.  So I proposed that the affluent adopting couple be mixed race – an African-American woman married to a white Jewish man. This now posed a whole other set conflicts. This now made the play about the racial divide in America.

Last year, Jenny came to me and said that the Rubicon was interested in doing a production of the play with this new concept.  So I sat down and did a complete rewrite. I think it’s a much more sophisticated play than the original. Adding race to the mix makes it more complex, more dramatically exciting. And besides that, I’m a much better writer than I was those 20-some years ago.

Expound upon how resonant the message is today.

Clearly the debate about race in America has taken a whole new turn – with everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to the film industry being called out for its lack of diversity. And of course, now that we have a president who is barely able to conceal his own racist self, the volume is turned way up.  

Tell our readers about the specific plot differences in the two plays.

In the original play, the relationship between Rachel (the adopting mother) and Wanda (the birth mother) is all about two women trying to work through their class and cultural differences so they can form a close enough bond to make this handover of Wanda’s baby as painless as possible. Rachel feels for Wanda but she’s never going to be able to relate to this lower class woman on a really deep level. But in this new version, Regina (formally Rachel)  has a much deeper connection to Wanda because she’s been living with a white husband, socializing with white people and she’s now with another black woman. Even though there’s a huge economic difference between them, there is this unsaid thing that they’re sisters, they’re on the same side of things. 
The stakes are also raised with Wanda’s husband Al.   His own despair that he’s unable to support his family is aggravated by the fact that he’s giving up his baby to a white man. And Regina’s liberal Jewish husband Richard is trying to fight his own secret discomfort with the fact that this child he’s adopting will never pass as his own.

How has it been working with cast and the company at the Rubicon?

Karyl Lynn Burns, the artistic director of the Rubicon, has been unbelievably supportive. She gave us an extra week of rehearsals so I could work on the script with Jenny and the actors. The rehearsal process was pretty profound.  I said to our cast, “Look, Jenny and I are a couple of old white broads.  Talk to us.  Correct us.  If there’s something in the script that feels offensive or false for God’s sake tell us.”  We had a lot of deep, honest talks and I did a lot of rewriting.  Bless them for their talent and for their patience with some of my very na├»ve white woman assumptions.  They helped me keep things true.

The Baby Dance: Mixed plays at the Rubicon Theatre at 1006 E. Main St.,Ventura through May 20. For tickets and information, call (805) 667-2900 or visit

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