Amanda Peet is currently enjoying one of her most exciting roles to date—it just doesn’t happen to be on a stage or screen. Instead, the 41 year-old actress—seen most recently on CBS’s “The Good Wife” and in this summer’s indie film “The Way, Way Back”—has turned to playwriting. Her first effort, “Commons of Pensacola,” directed by Lynne Meadow, opens at the MTC Stage I at City Center on November 21st (and runs through January 26th). Set in a Floridian condo, the play stars Blythe Danner as Judith, a woman scorned and broke after her husband commits financial fraud, and Sarah Jessica Parker as her daughter, Becca, who comes to visit for Thanksgiving. As with all complicated familial relationships (and aren’t they all?), motives are unclear. Becca, a struggling actress, seems torn between defending her mother and potentially exploiting the situation for her own career purposes; Judith, meanwhile, appears to live in a bubble of such bewilderment, one can’t help but wondering if she knows more than she’s letting on. Here Peet—who for the record, is not abandoning acting; she’ll star next year in HBO’s comedy series “Togetherness” written by Mark and Jay Duplass—chats about gallows humor, Ruth Madoff and small spaces.
What inspired you to write a play?
Turning 40 probably had something to do with it, and wanting to do something where I could have a little more control. With acting it’s always waiting, it’s always incoming.
Did you know from the outset what subject you wanted to tackle?
It wasn’t that purposeful but I was definitely riffing on the Ruth Madoff story. There was a period of time when I couldn’t stop thinking about her and the fact that she was so despised. I’ve also thought a lot about Adam Lanza’s brother and father. I’m interested in people who are very close to the people who commit crimes.
The play is funny. What made you want to infuse such a serious topic with laughter?
I’m a big fan of gallows humor. When my aunt passed away, she was in a coma for a day before my cousins pulled the plug. And the amount of joking and base humor that went on that day around her bed was so insane. It’s crazy how people talk when something horrible is happening. There’s a lot of laughter. It’s part of how we deal with things. And I’m also a big fan of [director-writer-producer] Nicole Holofcener, who is always cutting things with humor.
Why did you decide not to star in the play?
Because I felt like I wouldn’t be able to edit properly if I was acting. I would have been like a chicken with my head cut off.
Why Sarah Jessica Parker?
Because she’s in her 40s and she’s gorgeous and she’s sexy and she’s Jewish and she’s funny and she’s been on stage. Name one other person who can do that. There’s almost nobody. I wrote her several notes and begged her.
Did you ever think of writing for film or TV?
I like playwriting because it’s rooted in a single location with actors standing talking to each other. There are fewer choices. Once you open it up to an airport and a car and people can move around in different places, I get really scared. It’s too much. It’s like a canvas that’s too enormous. The tinier it is, the more I feel like I can push, plot-wise. It’s weirdly a paradox.
I think you must be the only playwright who wants the room to get smaller. Most people want big stages.
No tiny, tiny! I love the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and the Lucille Lortel [both in New York]. Those are my places. And honestly the side space of the Geffen in Los Angeles obsesses me. It’s just so intimate. It’s exciting to be that intimate.