Craig Wright consults on his play while developing show for MTV


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It's 8 a.m. in Chicago, a Wednesday morning with sirens blaring outside, but Craig Wright has to step out onto a balcony and into the noises of the city to get better phone reception. He's in the midst of filming episodes of his series "Underemployed," which debuts on MTV in the fall, and readying his Broadway debut, the play "Grace," to star Paul Rudd, Ed Asner and Mr. Wright's cohort at Chicago's A Red Orchid Theatre, Michael Shannon.

Here in Pittsburgh, No Name Players has launched a production of Mr. Wright's "Orange Flower Water," a play about infidelity and its effects on two families, running through July 14. The Chicago Sun-Times named the Steppenwolf company's production its top play of 2003 and it was well-received off-Broadway in 2005.

When Mr. Wright heard that another Red Orchid colleague, Pittsburgher Steven Wilson, was directing for No Name, he volunteered as a consultant. Of particular concern, the ending of the play has been troublesome in some productions, he said.

"Something I failed to make clear in the writing or maybe it's clear to me and I didn't understand how many people could get it wrong ... several times when I've seen it reviewed, the play is accused of devolving in the end into something syrupy, as if the awfulness of what has come before has been somehow covered over, and that was never my intention. It's the one piece of work I've done where I've found I always have to explain myself to people who produce it."

Mr. Wright's Broadway debut, "Grace," is a seriocomic play about a religious couple hoping to open a biblical-themed motel chain in Florida. The play earned Mr. Wright the 2009 Horton Foote Excellence in American Playwriting Award from Baylor University.

The Broadway debut for the writer, who has an Emmy nomination for an episode of "Six Feet Under" and is the creator of the ABC series "Dirty Sexy Money," is "immensely exciting, also immensely daunting."

"There is this iceberg out there in the water called The New York Times, and it's always scary to launch a ship out into the ocean knowing that iceberg is out there," Mr. Wright said. "So I do want to make sure I do my homework. If I'm going to get accused of having fallen short in any respect, I'd like to have it be a surprise, not something about which I can say, 'I should have done this or that.' Despite the occasional tonal missteps in the critical discourse of the paper, they are quite often right, and it makes me want to do a good job."

Mr. Wright's "The Pavilion" was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and the American Theatre Critics' Association Best New Play Award, and he also has had success creating and writing for television.

As creator of "Underemployed," he is in Chicago to oversee the 12-episode shoot for the upcoming MTV series about recent college graduates. Other TV credits as executive producer and writer include episodes of "Lost," "Brothers & Sisters" and "United States of Tara."

Juggling different projects has been a way of life, he said. He sketched out a schedule that starts at 4:30 a.m. and allots time for "fresh creative work," business, producing, editing and rewriting.

"Then at night, I can let things settle inside me and I know that in the morning I'll have ideas about how to approach it. I can compartmentalize that way."

And sleep?

"I sleep from about 11:30 to 4:30 or 12 to 5. But you know, I'm going to be dead one day. So I might as well stay up and live a little."

theater - tvradio

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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