A Musical Departure For Playwright Paula Vogel

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A scene from 'A Civil War Christmas.' (Photo courtesy the Huntington Theatre Company)

Playwright Paula Vogel is no stranger to upending traditional ideas about theater and taking on dark themes — often with comedy. It started with her Pulitzer prize winning play "How I Learned to Drive," which is about incest and forgiveness.

Now, Vogel, who is chair of the play-writing department at the Yale School of Drama, has a new show that's also decidedly different. "A Civil War Christmas," which is being staged by the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, is billed as an uplifting musical.

"I wanted to examine where we are, who we are as Americans, as well as celebrate where we came from," said Vogel.

Vogel wrote the play in 2006 before the health care debate, and before President Obama was elected to the Oval Office.

Vogel says the main theme in "A Civil War Christmas" is the hope of peace.

She admits this play is very different from her previous productions, which have often dealt with dark topics.

"It is a big switch. It was a great challenge for me," Vogel said.

Vogel says the arts allow us to examine who we are and they also shape who we become. She says cuts in arts funding must be restored.

"Every time I go and talk to groups, I say, 'Everyone here within the sound of my voice, you're all artists. You may not choose to do it as a full time job, or as a living. But everyone is born innately an artist,'" Vogel said.

Vogel is hopeful about the future generation of playwrights. She says the work she's seeing from young writers is extraordinary.

"I think it's because this generation in the 21st centruy has a lot to say. Because we are at a crisis moment economically, politically, spiritually, morally right now, as a country," Vogel said.

During the holiday time, theater is especially popular, she said, because both the holidays and the arts are all about creating community.

This program aired on November 25, 2009.

Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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