Broadway bound?

These up-and-coming playwrights are creating some of NYC's most original theater

Theater playwright Steven Cosson
Steven Cosson

Photo: Peter Bellamy

Steven Cosson


When explaining the work that he has created for the Civilians, the red-hot theater troupe he founded in 2001, Steven Cosson tends to end his sentences with mild question marks, as if everything might be up for revision. Such contingency is at the core of the playwright-director’s most recent shows, 2003’s Gone Missing and 2006’s (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch: brilliantly suggestive latticeworks of intellectual vaudeville, studded with song and dance. Cosson, 38, resists describing them as documentaries, although they are woven from the texts of real interviews conducted by the company. “A documentary investigates something to know more about it,” he says. “A creative investigative process—which I’m trying to coin—reveals what you don’t know about something.” Cosson is currently working on multiple projects: an interview-based look at conservative Christianity; a revision of a play set in the final days of the Paris Commune; and a piece about time, the research of which involves trips to Panama and Northern Canada. “I want to do experimental theater for the public,” he says. “For an audience that is not composed of professional theater-attending people.”

Theater playwright Steven Cosson
Steven Cosson

Photo: Peter Bellamy

Anne Washburn


Washburn, 39, poster child of both the Civilians and the DIY playwrights collective 13P, can be a tough writer to pin down: One minute she’s confiding ghost stories (Apparition), and the next she’s introducing historical she-monsters to each other (The Ladies), only to follow it all up with a fish-out-of-water fable, half spoken in gibberish (The Internationalist). This last play, a coldly keen study of cultural alienation and globalist occupation, found Washburn observing how language, manners and mores turn opaque and all attachments—corporate and romantic—become provisional. Bravo to the Vineyard Theater for mounting it! But what her pieces have in common is the way she captures her characters’ discombobulation, whether due to travel, the supernatural or some dizzying postmodern device. Her plays, steeped in the disorienting techniques of nonnarrative giants like the Wooster Group, nonetheless have strong stories at their core. The resulting juxtapositions are provoking, mysterious and rich with her sense that, as she puts it, “we are surrounded by things we can’t see, can’t control and can’t understand.” Her latest work, I Have Loved Strangers, is a lyrical investigation of false and true prophets, and is inspired by the Book of Jeremiah.

Theater playwright Steven Cosson
Steven Cosson

Photo: Peter Bellamy

Adam Bock


Fifteen years ago, Adam Bock,45, had just about given up on playwriting, committing his time instead to AIDS activism, when three friends decided they wanted to perform in a coming-out show. He dusted off his Brown dramatist credits, contacted his inner fashionista and wrote The House of Chanel Goes to ACT-UP! Suddenly, Bock says, “I discovered it was fun to write for myself.” That set him off on a series of drag shows, which eventually cascaded into sensitive, linguistically agile dramatic comedies—from the family frolic Five Flights to the adorable Swimming in the Shallows (which dares to ask, “Can a boy find lasting love with a shark?”). Bock’s plays are like Chopin études: disarmingly light, rigorously structured and built with a powerful underlying logic. Though audiences giggle through them, he somehow makes us confront environmental responsibility, the absurdity of American materialism and what he calls “the shape of our circle of concern.” His most recent piece, The Thugs, a nightmare story for temps working in a law office (is there anyone more vulnerable?), delighted audiences at SoHo Rep in late 2006.