R. W. Schneider

R. W. Schneider

R.W. Schneider came to playwriting late. He gravitates toward historical and literary subjects. His first play, Let Alone Everything, a fantasy about Flaubert ransacking his real-life relationships so he can use their details in Madame Bovary, had to be cobbled together when the rights to another play became unavailable. As The Flaubert Project it later became a semi-finalist at the National Playwrights...
R.W. Schneider came to playwriting late. He gravitates toward historical and literary subjects. His first play, Let Alone Everything, a fantasy about Flaubert ransacking his real-life relationships so he can use their details in Madame Bovary, had to be cobbled together when the rights to another play became unavailable. As The Flaubert Project it later became a semi-finalist at the National Playwrights Conference. He followed it with a Midwestern adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Birds and Did I Promise You Molière, a back-to-front account of the eponymous playwright’s marriage. 17 Tolbiac offered a voyeur’s view of life in the upper floors of a Parisian apartment building with all the dialog in phonetically-spelled French, e.g. “mair-sea beau-coo.” Daughters of Waterloo, likewise a semi-finalist, tells the story of two young women from the early 21st century afflicted with fathers from the early 19th. All of the above have been produced by his colleagues and students at Northern Illinois University.
His most recent play, Sanctuary, North, was a finalist at the National Playwrights Conference, 2016.
Unproduced (and perhaps un-produceable) are two other plays. In Pyramid Scheme 5 actors play 24 characters in scenes scattered over 44 centuries. Much of the action takes place in small, dark places inside a pyramid. Zero at the Bone examines illicit sex and its impact on the editorial history of Emily Dickinson’s poems. The poet participates, but chastely.
R.W. Schneider studied theatre with Bob Cohen at U.C. Irvine and with Liz Diamond, Richard Gilman, Earle Gister and Harold Bloom at Yale Drama School. His reviews and articles have appeared in Theatre, American Theatre, Plays International, DC Theatre and the New York Times.

Plays

  • Sanctuary, North
    The youngest son of a very famous and very masculine writer grows up brilliant but bi-polar and compelled intermittently to put on women's clothes. He’s acquired a wife, five children and a medical degree, but for much of his life he’s pursued the provisional: projects invented during fits of manic energy only to be abandoned weeks or months later. Now he’s moved to a remote hamlet near the Canadian...
    The youngest son of a very famous and very masculine writer grows up brilliant but bi-polar and compelled intermittently to put on women's clothes. He’s acquired a wife, five children and a medical degree, but for much of his life he’s pursued the provisional: projects invented during fits of manic energy only to be abandoned weeks or months later. Now he’s moved to a remote hamlet near the Canadian border where he’s the only doctor for an hundred miles around. This is the place he’s chosen to make his stand: permanence, mental stability and masculinity -- or die.
  • Headed Out
    Nyssa met Thaddeus when she took his freshman survey course in Western Philosophy. A professor and a student with unusually compatible minds, they found themselves embarked for a multi-year cruise on the deep waters of philosophic conversation. In Nyssa’s final semester, however, the tone of the voyage changed abruptly. Like the brave sailors in Moby Dick, they encountered a topic that sank them utterly. Months...
    Nyssa met Thaddeus when she took his freshman survey course in Western Philosophy. A professor and a student with unusually compatible minds, they found themselves embarked for a multi-year cruise on the deep waters of philosophic conversation. In Nyssa’s final semester, however, the tone of the voyage changed abruptly. Like the brave sailors in Moby Dick, they encountered a topic that sank them utterly. Months later, the wreckage is still floating. The second act is an alternative to the first. The characters leave from the same port, but the wind carries them to different destinations.
  • Lunch at the Akropolis
    A professor takes his academic advisee to lunch at a Greek restaurant. She’s not sure what to get; he knows the menu by heart. They’re obviously hungry, but what exactly do they crave? If she’s hiding something, does he suspect it? If he’s after something, can she guess what? The situation is murky even before moussaka is mentioned. On certain days and in certain situations you can no longer order up...
    A professor takes his academic advisee to lunch at a Greek restaurant. She’s not sure what to get; he knows the menu by heart. They’re obviously hungry, but what exactly do they crave? If she’s hiding something, does he suspect it? If he’s after something, can she guess what? The situation is murky even before moussaka is mentioned. On certain days and in certain situations you can no longer order up experiences a la carte—you have to take the whole damn meal.
  • Memories of Margaret
    A researcher at a top theatre school encounters a street woman with perfect diction who recites passages from old plays for tips. He sets about trying to find out who she is and how she became homeless. He ends up making discoveries about himself.
  • Zero at the Bone
    Once upon a time there was a woman who did a fantastically creative thing. She did it so quietly that not even her family knew what she was up to. Whenever she wasn’t with them or with a few close friends, she worked on her project.
    She didn’t go out.
    She didn’t travel.
    She never married or had children.
    When she died, her project was discovered. Her friends and family were...
    Once upon a time there was a woman who did a fantastically creative thing. She did it so quietly that not even her family knew what she was up to. Whenever she wasn’t with them or with a few close friends, she worked on her project.
    She didn’t go out.
    She didn’t travel.
    She never married or had children.
    When she died, her project was discovered. Her friends and family were astonished by its scope and depth; it seemed to address the totality of human feeling, from the loftiest spirituality to the most mischievous wit. Her project depicted every sort of action, from the tenderest love to the most abject cruelty. Her friends and family realized they had never truly known the woman who lived among them. They had been too busy with their own lives and loves to notice the monumental act of creation that happened right under their noses.
    Nevertheless, they set about publishing the woman’s work. It was very difficult at first because nobody had ever seen anything like it. The woman was dead, so they couldn’t ask her questions. Scholars everywhere, even in far off lands, began to study the woman. For over a century, they quarreled and debated among themselves, seeking to understand the woman’s “what,” her “how,” and her “wherefore.”
    Although she figures in the cast of characters, Zero at the Bone isn’t much about the woman herself. It’s about humans who live in proximity to someone whose unique gifts they utterly fail to recognize. It also looks at humans who struggle to calculate their debt to an artist of the past. In these ways, the play is about most of us.
    It ends with a sort of oratorio that shows how the woman approached a particular set of problems in her work. This is as close as the play gets to explaining anything.
  • Let Alone Everything
    Let Alone Everything follows Gustave Flaubert as he struggles to write Madame Bovary. We see him negotiate with his characters, rack his brain for ideas, and beg patience of his neglected mistress, Louise Colet. Intermittently, he defends his work against an obscenity charge brought by the Imperial Prosecutor.

    As Louise and Gustave exchange letters, we see him appropriate her attitudes and...
    Let Alone Everything follows Gustave Flaubert as he struggles to write Madame Bovary. We see him negotiate with his characters, rack his brain for ideas, and beg patience of his neglected mistress, Louise Colet. Intermittently, he defends his work against an obscenity charge brought by the Imperial Prosecutor.

    As Louise and Gustave exchange letters, we see him appropriate her attitudes and language to create his heroine, Emma Bovary. He becomes obsessed with Emma to the point of entering the novel himself as her lover, Rudolph. The operation succeeds too well: Emma is soon infatuated with Rudolph and requires more attention than he can give her. Early in the second act, Gustave (as himself) must fight off the prosecutor while (as Rudolph) assuring Emma of his undying love. Any slip-up would demolish him.

    Gustave makes matters worse by sending manuscript pages to Louise for comment inadvertently revealing that the signet ring she gave him as a love token he’s re-gifted to his character. Furious; she invades Gustave’s study and demands the ring back. He gets rid of her, but the alternating assaults of the mistress and the prosecutor -- played by the same actor – send him further into his own imagination. Madame Bovary is practically writing itself, but the author can no longer escape it: he finds himself playing the title role. The timing couldn’t be worse: Emma has been dumped by her second lover, Leon, and is horribly in debt. Desperate for money and understanding, Gustave (as Emma) races back to Rudolph only to discover that Rudolph is now played by Louise. Flaubert’s implacable mistress has pursued him into the climactic scene of his own novel. What’s more, the confrontation has to go badly; any other outcome would violate the author’s artistic principals. When Rudolph refuses to help her, Emma swallows poison. As Emma/Gustave lies dying, the prosecutor sums up for the audience: creating literature is difficult, unpredictable and unpleasant. Reading it can lead to immorality, so why should anyone bother?

    Let Alone Everything moves in and out of the trial, the novel, and Flaubert’s stormy life with Louise. While the action is fanciful, the attitudes and many of the actual words are taken from Flaubert’s letters and the oral arguments presented at Flaubert’s 1857 obscenity trial. Of the three main plots, only the trial is left unresolved. The audience must reach its own verdict on which trade-offs are permissible between art and life.
  • Did I Promise You Moliere?
    The great playwright is dead. As his household effects are being inventoried, to visitors arrive from the great beyond: Alceste, one of his orphaned characters, joins forces with Clio, the muse of history, to revisit scenes from Molière's life and career in reverse chronological order. They're especially curious about his controversial, near-incestuous marriage with a much younger woman. Armande...
    The great playwright is dead. As his household effects are being inventoried, to visitors arrive from the great beyond: Alceste, one of his orphaned characters, joins forces with Clio, the muse of history, to revisit scenes from Molière's life and career in reverse chronological order. They're especially curious about his controversial, near-incestuous marriage with a much younger woman. Armande Béjart grew up in Molière's shadow; as she comes to occupy an ever-greater part of his emotional life, she also finds her way into his acting troupe and the characters he wrote for her. They make great art together, but at what cost? Art, love and history collide in this quirky, back-to-front, dark comedy.
  • Daughters of Waterloo
    Sooner or later parents discover that children live in a separate century. I’ve dramatized this observation by taking two young women from the 21st century and giving them fathers from the early 19th. The fathers are political opponents and military rivals. Haley’s is the Duke of Wellington. Charlotte’s is the Emperor Napoleon. Neither man is easy to live with. Although raised apart, the girls have a...
    Sooner or later parents discover that children live in a separate century. I’ve dramatized this observation by taking two young women from the 21st century and giving them fathers from the early 19th. The fathers are political opponents and military rivals. Haley’s is the Duke of Wellington. Charlotte’s is the Emperor Napoleon. Neither man is easy to live with. Although raised apart, the girls have a common mother, the American author Edith Wharton. (In my play the author of The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth gets the A-list love affairs she deserved in real life but never enjoyed.)
    When the play opens, Haley and Charlotte have reached an age where they take an interest in their father’s activities outside the family. In 1815 these include Wellington’s service as ambassador to the Congress of Vienna, Napoleon’s return from exile in Elba, his ouster of the Bourbon king, and his abolition of the slave trade. In June of that year, the two men met at Waterloo, the bloodiest clash of arms the continent had ever seen. Haley and Charlotte have quarrels of their own, but each wants to help her dad if she can. History summons each new generation to clean up its parents’ mess. Young as they are, Haley and Charlotte hear the call and do their best – but the battle leaves a mess of epic proportions.
  • 17 Tolbiac
    The play is situated in six contiguous apartments at the rear of a century-old building in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. Events in each apartment are related in the corresponding column of the performance text. A blank cell indicates that the previously-described action continues. Actors can and should supply additional bits of behavior -- like grace notes -- within the framework provided. To take just...
    The play is situated in six contiguous apartments at the rear of a century-old building in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. Events in each apartment are related in the corresponding column of the performance text. A blank cell indicates that the previously-described action continues. Actors can and should supply additional bits of behavior -- like grace notes -- within the framework provided. To take just one example, there’s scarcely any limit to the number of times that someone who’s getting ready to go out will cross in front of a window.