Jerry Small is the playwright behind the powerful new playBefore We’re Gone,” a tale of love, second chances, and devotion, now at 13th Street Repertory Theatre in NYC, for a limited engagement through August 5, 2018. It features a powerful cast that stars Leenya Rideout, who has appeared on Broadway in “War Horse,” “Company,” “Cabaret,” and “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Tickets are $20 and $25.

“Before We’re Gone” is the story of a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and political activist who disappears from the spotlight, retreating into hiding in a seaside motel in California. She is found there by a younger man with whom she had a relationship twenty-five-years earlier.

They have had no contact with each other all that time.

Jerry Small is an award-winning playwright and a screenwriter. He is a member of The Dramatist Guild and The Writer's Guild and published by Samuel French. His plays have been produced in numerous theaters in New York and nationally and he is a recipient of both The Shubert Foundation Fellowship in Playwriting and The John Golden Fellowship in Playwriting.

Jerry Small recently discussed his career and his work on “Before We’re Gone” via an exclusive interview on July 23, 2018.

Subjects, characters, and insight

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired “Before We’re Gone” and what subjects and themes most interest you?

Jerry Small (JS): Although the Play is fiction, the seeds from which it grew were real people, actual incidents I have personally witnessed or experienced, and research into the lives of American female writers of the mid-twentieth century, women of towering talent and dynamic personalities, who spoke up with strong voices and made an undeniable mark in a world dominated by men.

In “Before We’re Gone,” as in everything I write, it is, first and last, about characters, about people and human relationships. Those are the great subjects, the most fascinating and complicated and dangerous and lovely of subjects, and the hardest to get right. To try to look into another person’s soul, that deep cave filled with the mysterious and the horrible and the ever-astonishing and admirable. That is the work a flawed writer has to do. I feel obliged to search the human heart and mind, from which come both love and war and from which have sprung the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Golden Gate Bridge, Auschwitz, heart-breaking love songs, and whatever makes you thankful that you woke up again this morning.

Although I try to be honest—though none of us can be completely honest—nevertheless, I attempt more to understand my characters than to judge them. As I watch the actions of each character, and as I listen hard for the deepest secrets and fears and longings in their hearts, I try to keep in mind the advice of Philo of Alexandria, who said, “Be kind, because everybody you meet is engaged in a great struggle.” I owe that to each character.

Edward Albee said that a play (or maybe he said art in general) should be “useful.” By that I think he meant that a play has to offer the audience some gift of value to take away from it, maybe laughter to make them feel better as they are leaving the theatre, or perhaps some insight to expand their consciousness of other people, of themselves, and maybe even of the human condition.

MM: What about these characters interest you most?

JS: Although I endeavor to discover and invent a detailed backstory for my characters, I guess I am interested in what I do not know about them and hope to discover as I write and rewrite them. Maybe the ignorance about a character is what drives me in the first place to write a character into existence. Although I accept that I cannot ever create a human being in the totality of their uniqueness, nevertheless, I write in the hope of discovering what I can about that person. Joan Didion said, “I write in order to find out what I think about things.”

Production, audiences, and ideas

MM: How did you find the 13th Street Theatre, and what was the production process like?

JS: Greenwich Village’s charming, quaint, perfectly located 13th Street Theatre was discovered by the producers, Bahr Productions, headed-up by Erika Lockridge. The producing team connected with the theatre’s Artistic Director, Joe John Battista, found that they shared the same feelings about and vision of “Before We’re Gone” and mounted a first-class production, sparing no expense: rebuilt the stage, used a top casting office (McCorkle Casting), secured a cast of superb actors (some with multiple Broadway credits) and achieved outstanding production values across the board, even commissioning original music.

MM: What do you hope audiences take away from “Before We’re Gone”?

JS: First, of course, I hope each person in the audience enjoys experiencing the play. Without arrogantly claiming the existence of too much protein in the play, I hope audiences walk out of the theatre holding in their hearts and minds each of the characters and seeking to understand them. Also, I hope some of the ideas touched upon in the story might stimulate thought and discussion of religious faith, governmental and religious tyranny, mortality, time, sexuality, male attitudes toward women, missed opportunities, second chances, assisted suicide, the courage to change one’s life path, and the beauty of taking great risk for the benefit of another person.