Mia McCullough

Mia McCullough

God, I hate writing bios. Do you hate reading them? It's the worst. I mean, it's better than kidney stones, but still.
Let's see...I'm a Chicago-based playwright. I've been writing plays for over 20 years. Most of my plays have been produced somewhere. Many of them have been produced twice. Twice! Some at fancy theatres like Steppenwolf and the Old Globe, some at wonderful...
God, I hate writing bios. Do you hate reading them? It's the worst. I mean, it's better than kidney stones, but still.
Let's see...I'm a Chicago-based playwright. I've been writing plays for over 20 years. Most of my plays have been produced somewhere. Many of them have been produced twice. Twice! Some at fancy theatres like Steppenwolf and the Old Globe, some at wonderful storefronts like Stage Left in Chicago and the Victory Theatre in LA. I've won some awards, I've been a finalist for even more. My plays have been published by Smith & Kraus, Broadway Play Publishing, and Chicago Dramatists. I'm a Resident Playwright Emeritus with Chicago Dramatists and a member of the Dramatists Guild. See it's gotten boring. No matter how I try: BORING.

I write screenplays too, and I'm currently producing a web series I created called The Haven. I taught playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern University for ten years, and even longer at Chicago Dramatists. I did stand-up comedy for a few years, and I'm a mom. I spent the past couple of years juggling five different jobs, including producing, teaching, writing and being Director of Public Programming at Chicago Dramatists. So I've been stupidly busy. Definitely not a lot of time for marketing. It's no surprise that I haven't updated this bio in three years. So READ MY PLAYS! Some of them are really really good. And some of them? Other people like way more than I do. I'm not going to tell you which are which. Unless you produce one of my plays, in which case I'll tell you everything.

You can visit my website www.miamccullough.net for a more detailed, possibly more-irreverent bio, but I've been locked out of that site for over four years, so it's not very current.

Plays

  • Wisdom From Everything
    A 19 year old Syrian refugee agrees to marry a much older Jordanian doctor so that she can escape the refugee camp and get an education, but when she gets to his home in Amman she finds herself a pawn in a strange family drama.
  • Household Spirits
    A newly blended family spends a nearly disastrous holiday together in their fancy but haunted home in Westchester County, NY.

    Erik, a sullen teenager, wants nothing more than to get away from everyone and everything he knows. He’s biding his time, closing himself off from everyone around him with his iPod and his video games. He hates his self-absorbed step-mother. His father, after being...
    A newly blended family spends a nearly disastrous holiday together in their fancy but haunted home in Westchester County, NY.

    Erik, a sullen teenager, wants nothing more than to get away from everyone and everything he knows. He’s biding his time, closing himself off from everyone around him with his iPod and his video games. He hates his self-absorbed step-mother. His father, after being arrested on drunk driving charges, is completely consumed by early days of recovery from alcoholism and has no time for Erik’s unhappiness. Erik’s step-sister, who was not supposed to be home for the holiday at all, has arrived angry and violated. The housekeeper, Angela, is the only one with time for Erik and yet she does not truly understand him either. But the biggest threat to Erik’s sanity is his dead mother, whose ghost has been wandering the house for years, knitting and poking at Erik’s subconscious.

    And then Evelyn, Erik’s step-mother, brings home a life-size rag doll – once promised to her daughter – whose ownership is now a matter of some dispute. The doll becomes the catalyst and the cause of much emotional trauma for the rest of the holiday week. She serves as a hiding place, a source of solace, a means for a dead mother to talk to her son, a sexual surrogate, and both a keeper and revealer of family secrets.

    A very dark comedy about mental illness, alcoholism, and household spirits.
  • Chagrin Falls
    To live in Chagrin Falls, Oklahoma is to be in the killing business. The town’s major employers are a cattle slaughterhouse and a penitentiary where lethal injection is administered. Whether they work at the slaughterhouse, or play preacher or guard to death row inmates, or merely offer a bed and a hot meal to those visiting the prison, each resident of Chagrin Falls makes their living off of death and...
    To live in Chagrin Falls, Oklahoma is to be in the killing business. The town’s major employers are a cattle slaughterhouse and a penitentiary where lethal injection is administered. Whether they work at the slaughterhouse, or play preacher or guard to death row inmates, or merely offer a bed and a hot meal to those visiting the prison, each resident of Chagrin Falls makes their living off of death and captivity.

    A week prior to a particular execution, an Asian-American graduate student comes to town — purportedly to do a story on a man who is scheduled to die. As this would-be journalist interviews a cross-section of the population she finds her subjects revealing far more than their opinions on capital punishment. She is repelled by the recently-retired slaughterhouse employee’s morbid humor and his strangely intense interest in her background. She is seduced by one prison guard’s painful tale of sacrifice, and is comforted by the naivete and kindness of another. Though she never gets what she came for, when she witnesses the execution she becomes one of them: a participant in the killing, an honorary resident of Chagrin Falls.
  • Lucinda's Bed
    LUCINDA’S BED chronicles the life of Lucinda, a “Good Girl”-then-woman, through the significant moments that happen in and around her bed. It begins with a bed piled high with frilly, girlie sheets, but as each new stage of her life comes, a layer of bedding is pulled away to reveal something new. The two men who populate the piece are the “Monster”-under-her-bed, who portrays the various men that compromise...
    LUCINDA’S BED chronicles the life of Lucinda, a “Good Girl”-then-woman, through the significant moments that happen in and around her bed. It begins with a bed piled high with frilly, girlie sheets, but as each new stage of her life comes, a layer of bedding is pulled away to reveal something new. The two men who populate the piece are the “Monster”-under-her-bed, who portrays the various men that compromise Lucinda’s self-worth and tempt her darker side, and Adam who represents all the “Nice Guys” who promise to protect her but hurt her anyway.

    As the play proceeds each of the characters tries to break from their mold. Lucinda desperately wants out of her “Good Girl” shackles, but by the time she figures out how to not be an unfailing rule-follower, there is too much to lose. The Monster, bound to Lucinda, finds himself falling in love with her despite his job as instigator and seducer. Adam is the only one who manages to release himself from his role as “Nice Guy,” but not without gravely hurting Lucinda in the process.

    With each new betrayal Lucinda becomes harder and more bitter. Finally, with her heart turning to stone, Lucinda turns into a monster herself, releasing Adam from a hero role he cannot possibly fulfill, and seducing the love-sick Monster into granting her final wish.

    A full-length cautionary tale in one act. (There is some argument whether it's dark comedy or a funny drama. Dramedy, maybe?)
  • The Squirrel Plays: Infestation, Compensation, Eradication
    Depending on one's perspective the Squirrel Plays are three movements on a theme or three acts of one play, but the latter two plays cannot exist without the previous ones and they are intended to be presented as one evening of theatre.

    Infestation or The Play About the Squirrel

    Tom and Sarah don’t want squirrels. They’re not like, “Maybe someday.” They really don’t want...
    Depending on one's perspective the Squirrel Plays are three movements on a theme or three acts of one play, but the latter two plays cannot exist without the previous ones and they are intended to be presented as one evening of theatre.

    Infestation or The Play About the Squirrel

    Tom and Sarah don’t want squirrels. They’re not like, “Maybe someday.” They really don’t want squirrels. Squirrels don’t suit their lifestyle and it’s in the pre-nup, but when they discover a squirrel trapped in the attic of their new home they have very different responses to this unplanned...situation. A look at abortion through metaphor, Infestation is a one-act play with one Man, one Wife, and an “Exterminator.”

    Compensation

    The extermination bill for their unplanned squirrel is outrageous. Tom doesn’t want to pay it. Sarah wants to forget it ever happened. Instead of respecting Sarah’s wishes, Tom tries to convince the neighborhood association that they should subsidize the cost of local exterminations leading to unpleasant debate, airing of dirty laundry, strained relations with the neighbors, and ultimately a rift in their marriage. A reflection on the use of public funds for abortion, Compensation is a one-act companion piece to Infestation.

    Eradication

    Already strained relations with the neighbors get worse when the Alderman goes on a shooting spree killing several — mostly black — squirrels in the neighbor’s yard. Then animal control manages to kill a couple more. Tom and Sarah find their relationship mending as they band together to oppose the neighborhood bigotry, and join the new movement to reduce gun violence and eliminate abuses perpetrated by animal control.
    An exploration of how guilt and good intentions can lead liberal whites down a very patronizing and unhelpful path, Eradication is a companion piece to Infestation and Compensation.
  • Since Africa
    Since Africa chronicles the tensions between a Dinka refugee — one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” — and three people who help acclimate him to his new urban surroundings: a recently-widowed socialite, her reluctant and grieving college-age daughter, and an African-American Deacon from the local Catholic parish. A look at American culture through the eyes of an African, this play explores the tensions between...
    Since Africa chronicles the tensions between a Dinka refugee — one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” — and three people who help acclimate him to his new urban surroundings: a recently-widowed socialite, her reluctant and grieving college-age daughter, and an African-American Deacon from the local Catholic parish. A look at American culture through the eyes of an African, this play explores the tensions between blacks and whites, Africans and African-Americans, the devout and the non-religious.

    As he clumsily navigates this new land, the Dinka refugee is confounded by American’s self-centered nature and our notions about art and ritual. He would like to embrace this new life with all its opportunity, but the tug of home and the ache of displacement is ever-present. Meanwhile, the wealthy socialite’s misconceptions and romantic notions about Africa are turned on end. As she attempts to help the “Lost Boy,” she finds herself battling with the Deacon, with her daughter, and with her own inability to grieve for her husband. The Deacon’s inability to connect with this refugee forces him to question his own identity as an African and as an American.
    Guiding each of these characters through the journey of the play is the Nameless One, a non-speaking, dancer spirit who embodies the commonality of human experience and the under-lying spirituality in even the most lost souls.
    (A great play for adult audiences and student matinees. Subject matter easily linked to social studies curricula.)
    SINCE AFRICA can be purchased here:
    http://www.broadwayplaypubl.com/SINCE%20AFRICA.htm
  • Impenetrable
    In a well-to-do Chicago suburb a local spa sparks controversy with a billboard ad featuring a picture of a gorgeous woman in a bikini, superimposed with arrows suggesting how she could be cosmetically enhanced. The model, the photographer, the spa-owner, a local feminist activist and her daughter, and the barista (who observes them all) comment on the events leading up to the billboards ultimate removal. A...
    In a well-to-do Chicago suburb a local spa sparks controversy with a billboard ad featuring a picture of a gorgeous woman in a bikini, superimposed with arrows suggesting how she could be cosmetically enhanced. The model, the photographer, the spa-owner, a local feminist activist and her daughter, and the barista (who observes them all) comment on the events leading up to the billboards ultimate removal. A look at how body image and societal and cultural pressures affect both men and women’s perceptions of themselves and of each other.
    FYI, Impenetrable is sort of a monologue play. But not entirely. Because I don't like monologue plays.
    Also, I say that 4 of the characters are white, but the play has been done by a mostly-Asian cast with a few lines changes, so there's flexibility.
  • Spare Change
    When Brad, an unhappy investment banker, gets stuck on the train with Michael-Ann, a manic, multi-racial young mother who is fleeing an abusive past and grappling with mental illness, Brad is forced to face his own inability to aid her.
    This brief, innocent encounter prompts Brad to confront his headstrong wife Claire with his desire for a different kind of life. He wants to do something “good.” He...
    When Brad, an unhappy investment banker, gets stuck on the train with Michael-Ann, a manic, multi-racial young mother who is fleeing an abusive past and grappling with mental illness, Brad is forced to face his own inability to aid her.
    This brief, innocent encounter prompts Brad to confront his headstrong wife Claire with his desire for a different kind of life. He wants to do something “good.” He wants to be a better person. He wants to jump off the agreed-upon trajectory and start anew. Claire, grappling with a secret pregnancy and fear of miscarriage, is not emotionally in a place to have Brad decimate his income and/or alter her life plans.
    A week or so later, Brad encounters a woman – a woman he believes to be Michael Ann – prostituting herself on the train. Desperate to act instead of avoid, Brad brings this woman home with him, hoping to help her, and this act of attempted charity splits the cracks in his marriage wide open and pushes the prostitute to the edge of her sanity.
    Spare Change is an exploration of what it means to help one another, and how race, class, privilege, and idealism complicate matters further.

  • Taking Care
    Taking Care chronicles the last years of an elderly woman and the mentally ill adult son who has lived with her for almost three decades. Stuck in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment, Ma and Benny have spent much of the past thirty years pretending the other wasn’t there. Now that the old woman is more or less house-bound, she foists conversation upon her unwilling son and threatens to institutionalize him if he...
    Taking Care chronicles the last years of an elderly woman and the mentally ill adult son who has lived with her for almost three decades. Stuck in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment, Ma and Benny have spent much of the past thirty years pretending the other wasn’t there. Now that the old woman is more or less house-bound, she foists conversation upon her unwilling son and threatens to institutionalize him if he doesn’t clean up his act and start behaving more responsibly.

    When she breaks her hip, Ma convinces her alienated daughters that their brother is well enough to look after her in her “recovery.” Realizing that failure to do so could result in institutionalization for both them, Benny tries to rise to the occasion and care for his mother, even as she begins a quick decent into dementia. His new responsibilities test his limited capabilities and force mother and son to forge new bonds in the waning days of her life.
    Taking Care can be purchased here:
    http://www.broadwayplaypubl.com/TAKING%20CARE.htm
  • Echoes of Another Man
    ECHOES OF ANOTHER MAN chronicles the recovery of the recipient of the first-ever "successful" brain transplant. The donor body is from a professional golfer, the brain from a famous and somewhat notorious artist. Though the center of the story is the Patient's struggle with memories that no longer seem to match his identity, we also see the surgery's effect on three women in his life. The...
    ECHOES OF ANOTHER MAN chronicles the recovery of the recipient of the first-ever "successful" brain transplant. The donor body is from a professional golfer, the brain from a famous and somewhat notorious artist. Though the center of the story is the Patient's struggle with memories that no longer seem to match his identity, we also see the surgery's effect on three women in his life. The artist's lover/manager no longer feels connected to him in this new body, the golfer's widow cannot help but visit the walking image of her dead husband, and the Patient's primary care nurse finds herself increasing invested in the Patient even though she does not entirely agree with the surgery on ethical grounds.
    Using elements of art, music, athletics and medicine, Echoes of Another Man is an exploration of medical ethics and identity.
    Echoes of Another Man can be purchased here:
    http://www.broadwayplaypubl.com/ECHOES%20OF%20ANOTHER%20MAN.htm
  • Walnut-Crusted Goat Cheese and Other Psychic Disturbances (or Renovations)
    This is the story of a couple’s life together in their dream home told from the end to the beginning.

    The play begins just after Evers untimely death, his widow Marie grieving alone in her dismantled house, but as the story moves back in time we find that the marriage died long before Evers. It becomes clear, as we watch the home-improvements reverse and the house return to the dowdy state they...
    This is the story of a couple’s life together in their dream home told from the end to the beginning.

    The play begins just after Evers untimely death, his widow Marie grieving alone in her dismantled house, but as the story moves back in time we find that the marriage died long before Evers. It becomes clear, as we watch the home-improvements reverse and the house return to the dowdy state they found it in years before, that Marie and Evers’ relationship was fragile and could not tolerate disruption. While they had the tools to strip the layers of paint, peel the wallpaper, chip away at all that was distasteful, we find they didn’t know how to maintain the integrity of their house. Marie’s sudden decision not to have children, Evers quitting his job without warning, even Evers’ friendship with the next door neighbor contributed to the slow deterioration of their foundation. As the marriage falls back together, as we witness the choices each spouse made that widened the chasm between them, we also discover the dreams and the optimism with which this couple began, and we see all that they have lost.
  • The Anatomy of Pain
    Fredrik Rundstren is an isolated and lonely retired surgeon. Once lauded and respected, his experimentation with alternatives to anesthesia put him at odds with his colleagues. His eccentricities and his acute arthritis eventually forced him into retirement. His second wife has not quite aged past the trophy stage and, being younger and far more mobile than Fredrik, she has gone on with her life without him,...
    Fredrik Rundstren is an isolated and lonely retired surgeon. Once lauded and respected, his experimentation with alternatives to anesthesia put him at odds with his colleagues. His eccentricities and his acute arthritis eventually forced him into retirement. His second wife has not quite aged past the trophy stage and, being younger and far more mobile than Fredrik, she has gone on with her life without him, playing the resentful and reluctant caregiver.

    To ease his loneliness, Fredrik plays chess on-line, and has befriended a teenage girl — a cello prodigy — who is home-schooled by her over-protective mother. This mother, suspecting Fredrik is an internet predator, sets the local police on him. Michael Guttierez, the detective sent to investigate is, like Fredrik, a sufferer of chronic physical pain. An unlikely friendship forms between these two men as Michael attempts to uncover Fredrik’s true motives.