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Byline: Evan Henerson

Staff Writer

Add "novelist" to the already jam-packed resume of Theresa Rebeck. She's already an established playwright, TV writer/producer and nonfiction essayist. Her first novel, "Three Girls and Their Brother" (Shaye Areheart; $23.95), hit the shelves this spring, and Rebeck is at work on her second book.

Not that she's shelved her involvement in the other mediums. Far from it. In fact, Rebeck figures to be packing on some frequent-flier miles in the months ahead as premieres of new plays sprout up around the country.

She expects to be back in L.A. briefly in October when her play "Mauritius" has its West Coast premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse. The play, about two sisters and a bunch of con artists trying to gain control over a valuable stamp collection, was Rebeck's first to reach Broadway.

Another new play, "The Understudy," is in rehearsal at Massachusetts' Williamstown Theatre Festival for a July 23 opening followed by the premiere of her comic hostage drama "Our House" this winter at Playwrights Horizons.

And for good measure, she'll be in San Francisco in February collaborating on the Broadway-bound musical adaptation of "Ever After," a Cinderella tale based on the 1998 movie with Drew Barrymore.

"Three Girls and Their Brother" concerns a trio of red-haired sisters whose lives get turned topsy-turvy after the New Yorker magazine publishes a photo and tabs them as "It" girls.

Rebeck, who lived in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s while she was writing for and producing "NYPD Blue," met with LA.COM.

How does the world of a novelist differ from that of a playwright?

It's much more civilized. The theater's pretty rough. People are really mean to each other. There's also that thing where I think everything seems to ride on one or two reviews, and people get real uptight in an unhappy way. They just don't have the same amount of overwhelming power in fiction.

Why a novel? Why now?

I think for a period of time when I had some friends who were at loose ends, they were like between things. I would say, "You know what you should do? You should write a novel." I said it about four times, and they usually did. After the fourth time that happened, I thought, "Maybe you should write a novel. Maybe you're the one who's making the idea of writing a novel sound like a really cool idea, Theresa." I studied Victorian literature and I have a great admiration for the form, and I thought it would be a really beautiful challenge.

The subject kind of appeared one day. I thought, "You could try this." Then it took me, like, two years to write 50 pages, and I thought, "All right, do it or don't do it, but don't do this halfway thing." So then I finished the rest of it in 10 months. I do write quickly when I focus.

How did the subject of "Three Girls" appear?

It was in the fall of 1999. I didn't really start writing until two years later, but I was looking at this New Yorker magazine and it was one of those "the Next Generation" two part-ers, people who are going to be famous in the new millennium. They were all really young.

Also, I do get into that sort of lousy space of, "Oh here's someone else who is going to be more famous than me. Oh brother! Why are these people going to be famous?" I got to the very end and there was this really great photograph of these two pretty girls in a pillow fight, and they were the new "It" girls. I really had this moment of wondering what is the New Yorker doing running pictures of pretty girls and saying, 'Oh cool, the new 'It' girls."? It was Nicky and Paris Hilton. They were 15 and 18 years old.

Not exactly prescient of the New Yorker to dub billionaire heiresses "It" girls.

I think they started the first lighting of the match, but someone would have lit that match eventually. Something was sort of spooky about that picture, and then, like two years later, I saw a Vanity Fair article about Paris Hilton that was quite disturbing, with a lot of pornographic images of her. The story was very upsetting. I think one of the sex tapes had already come out. And I remember thinking, "Where is her mother?" She was, like, 18 at the time, and it just looked like a train wreck then. That was how I started thinking about the moment when the media reaches in and grabs a teenage girl and turns her into something else.

Why the fascination with red hair?

I grew up with red hair. There's something kind of impressive about it. There was always a lot of discussion. At least once a week, someone would say to me, "Where'd you get your red hair?" It kind of labeled you in a slightly transgressive way. I enjoy that sense of there's something slightly dangerous about it that I liked for these girls. That's why I did it.

"Ever After" could be your first Broadway musical. Are you enjoying working in that genre?

It's like anything. Some days I love it, some days I don't. It's something I've not done before, so there's a learning curve involved. I (like) the sort of strange logic of it all, the feeling that someone's got to interrupt for a song pretty soon and what would that song be? They had so much of the score written before I came on board. There are some songs that went away and then there were some songs that I felt were so beautiful and then the question becomes how do you set up that song so you really feel it, to the fullness of its beauty?

You're dealing with musicians, and they hear the world very strongly in musical rhythms and patterns. I was coming in with a different sound, and there was a lot of collision at times. Sometimes you could see a little light bulb come on. And it was really exciting, and sometimes it was just like, "Ay yay yay! I've got to go lie down!"

Evan Henerson (818) 713-3651




"It took me, like, two years to write 50 pages, and I thought, 'All right, do it or don't do it, but don't do this halfway thing,'" says author Theresa Rebeck about "Three Girls and Their Brother."
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Title Annotation:LA.COM
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 6, 2008

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