Theresa Rebeck Lusts After the Mythical Turkish Martini

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

Name: Theresa Rebeck
Occupation: Writer: She wrote the critically acclaimed play Mauritius and the upcoming Our House at Playwrights Horizons. Her novel, Three Girls and Their Brother had its paperback release yesterday.
Neighborhood: Park Slope

Who's your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
My favorite New Yorker would have to be Marion Seldes. She is so glamorous, and whenever I see her at openings, she puts her hands on my face and calls me "darling." I had the opportunity to work with her eight years ago when she was in one of my plays at Playwrights Horizons, and every aspect of that experience was and remains a wonder. She embodies, for me, the best of the city in its character and its history — she is so elegant and warmhearted, and nobody tells better stories. Her uncle was the great journalist George Seldes, who is one of my personal heroes.

What's the best meal you've eaten in New York?
The best meal I've ever eaten in New York was in Brooklyn and involves the malfatti you can order at our neighborhood restaurant al di là. It has gotten so hard to get in over there that sometimes we have taken to calling it la di da, but that's not their fault — it really is the perfect restaurant.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
I write and write and write and write, then I e-mail, then I go to the gym, and then I e-mail, and then I write some more.

Would you still live here on a $35,000 salary?
Actually, I don't think I could live here on that amount of money. I have two kids and a husband and I'm the sole breadwinner. So after taxes that would come to, what, less than $20,000? Four people living on less than $20,000; I think would put us out on the street pretty much anywhere.

What's the last thing you saw on Broadway?
Okay, I just saw Rock of Ages and it was truly awesome. Two thumbs way up from the playwright in Brooklyn. Rock on.

Do you give money to panhandlers?
Yes. Not all the time. I sort of switch it off and on. If I'm not ignoring it, I'm handing out five-dollar bills.

What's your drink?
Oh, I'm such a boring drinker. I usually go for a glass of white wine. Although one time I went to a Turkish restaurant with John Weidman, and I had this vodka drink with sour cherry and lime juice, and every time he suggests we go there again I apparently get kind of a crazed glint in my eye. He calls that drink the Turkish Martini, although I don't think that was its name. Anyway, it really does seem like a mythical drink to me now. I would very much like to have another one of those.

How often do you prepare your own meals?
I'm usually in charge of my own breakfast and lunch. I hate going out to breakfast and lunch because it wastes too much time, so I prepare those meals all the time. I'm pretty good at eggs and oatmeal. Also, I make a kind of yogurt-granola-cashew concoction that I like a lot. Then by the end of the day, I am frankly ready to waste time, so I will agree to go out to dinner if anybody asks. Also, my husband is a first-rate cook. So I never make dinner. Which is why I can get away with only knowing how to cook eggs, oatmeal, and granola.

What's your favorite medication?
I have a very steady and firm friendship with Dr. Ambien. What a great drug.

What's hanging above your sofa?
An enormous print by the Japanese artist Immamura. It looks like a time machine.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
Okay, that is a complicated question that looks like a simple question. For instance, I think that maybe $300 is too much to spend on a cut, but it is not too much to spend on a cut, highlights, and color. It all depends on what you mean by "haircut." "Haircut" can mean a lot of things.

When's bedtime?
That depends on the inside of my head and how poorly it chooses to behave. When it is behaving really badly, I would be up all night were it not for my friendship with Dr. Ambien. When the doctor is in the house, I might get to sleep by 1:30 or 2.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
Well come on, the new Times Square is pretty great. It reminds me of Blade Runner, which is one of my favorite movies. Sometimes I can't stand to walk through it because it's so insanely crowded all the time, and I get a little too angry at tourists who stop in the middle of the sidewalk to have a conversation regardless of how big a traffic jam they're going to create. But mostly I really like the new Times Square; I find it peculiar and dazzling.

What do you think of Donald Trump?
I don't actually think about Donald Trump. He seems like a character in a cartoon that I don't watch.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
The snobs. Obviously there are snobs everywhere on the planet, but there's a particular breed of them in New York that I find especially odious. The obsession with who you know and how much money you make is annoying, but it's the intellectual snobs who honestly I think are the worst, mostly because I don't find them truly well read or passionate or curious about matters of the mind. There are true intellects and real thinkers here — I'm not talking about them, I love them. It's the intellectual snobs who are phony at heart and mean and condescending without any reason, and without having anything to back it up. I think they give the city a bad name.

Who is your mortal enemy?
Oh, mortal enemies. I don't know; I have a sister I who I find pretty annoying. But even given my aversion to intellectual snobs, I'm not sure it is so smart to harbor or nurture fantasies of enmity. It seems like a terrible waste of time to me.

When's the last time you drove a car?
I drove a car last week. We went to Arizona and went up to the Navajo Nation and Monument Valley, so there was a lot of driving down straight roads under a very blue sky.

How has the economic downturn affected your life?
It's mostly a question of nerves for me. I work in an industry where everyone seems like they're always in a panic anyway. Now they seem like they're even more in a panic. And while I think other industries have truly had to rethink and restructure and grow up a little under the pressure of so many difficulties, I'm not sure that the theater is even capable of that. Everyone is terrified about shrinking audiences, but when you say things like, "well — maybe we should figure out a way to bring down ticket prices so that it could be more affordable for people to go to the theater in these rocky financial times" — there doesn't seem to be a way to actually think that through and address it as a good idea.

I have some friends who are working on a big musical, and they all decided they would cut the budget by something like 60 percent, and they seem really happy with the results. I think their show is going to be beautiful, and it simply was not going to happen under the old models. So I choose to believe it's possible for us to make the theater better and invite more people in to shows that mean something to them, and cost less too. But it's looking like that is something that might be hard to achieve on an industrywide level. Hence everybody panicking and wanting more and more movie stars to do their plays.

Times, Post, or Daily News?
I seriously love the Daily News. I love how they write about New York over there. Also, I think their headlines are amazing and the prose is so vigorous. My favorite issue of the Daily News came out just after the Red Sox had sealed the pennant back in 2004; there was a giant picture of Pedro Martinez with his hands in the air underneath the headline HELL FREEZES OVER. You have to love a paper that will print stuff like that.

Where do you go to be alone?
Vermont.

What makes someone a New Yorker?
Knowing how to read the subway map. When I first came here nineteen years ago, it looked like spaghetti to me. It doesn't look like that anymore.