Outsourcing as Source Material


"There or Here" playwright Jennifer Maisel knows her place in the arena that is the MySpace for manuscripts.

Her latest effort — part of the just premiered PlayPenn annual new play development conference being held through July 22 at the Adrienne in Center City — is out there on the topic of outsourcing, dressed as it is in the human hue of "Indian mattress," in which third-world residents serve as impoverished impregnated vessels for American couples who can't conceive.

Conceptually, the aspect of "In Vitro We Trust" trades on audiences' familiarity with today's ultimate love triangle: Man, Woman … Petri Dish.

"Everyone I know is struggling with fertility issues," says the playwright from whose fertile mind comes this play, as well as a cornucopia of others, including "The Last Seder."

She herself is neither here not there on the topic, personally unaffected by the dilemma. But theatrically, she has hit upon sexual outsourcing as intriguing source material.

But that is not the only kind referred to in the play as Maisel's characters (the wife is described as of "Eastern European Jewish descent") try to sort out their lives.

It is all a descent into the myopic madness of techno-terror, in which the couple confides the details and detritus of their lives, phoning it all on while not knowing who's on the other end of the line.

What's her line?

"We are all affected by outsourcing on a daily basis," says Maisel, whose "Goody F—- Two Shoes" was good enough to earn the theatrical equivalent of the silver slipper in 2005, being produced at the Humana Festival at the Actors Theater of Louisville.

It was shoe business about "high school politics that get dirty" — and sexy.

If the shoe fits … "No," she laughs, "that title character was not me, not me at all."

More pertinent to her past and present: "The Last Seder." Why was this play different from all her other plays?

"I always wanted to write a seder play," says the Jewish artist, of "my favorite of the holidays."

Alzheimer's on the Table

That drama asks more than the four questions during its intermission-less 95-minute set; it calls into play key concerns of family fealty as it puts Alzheimer's on the table: The patriarch, suffering from the disease, faces what may be his last seder.

Maisel's play about order — "Seder means order, and this is a family that goes out of order" — meant ordering up some extra shelf space for her many awards; this one, produced by the Organic Theater of Chicago and Theatre J of Washington, D.C., received the Charlotte Woolard Award for Extraordinary New Voice in American Theatre and the Fund for New American Plays Award at the Kennedy Center.

A new voice to be reckoned with? Showtime reckoned so; it gave Maisel its screenwriting award for her film adaptation. "Yes, it has Jewish elements — it's obviously about a seder — but it's a universal play about today's family."

Proof is in the noodle pudding: "The Last Seder" was a star at the Nantucket Film Festival, not exactly a cape coddler for Jewish works.

While Maisel relishes the chances afforded her by the PlayPenn conference for "There or Here" playing here, it may not be the opportunity of a lifetime.

That may be reserved for her next venture: "I am working on a project for Lifetime," says the writer of her cable networking.


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