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Theater & art

RISE

Playwright MJ Halberstadt mines family dysfunction

Halberstadt is currently working toward an MFA in playwriting at Boston University.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe StaFf

Halberstadt is currently working toward an MFA in playwriting at Boston University.

Age: 24

Hometown: Rockville Centre on Long Island. Now lives in Brighton.

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Think of: A spin on the trusty American theater tradition of examining dysfunctional families, informed by dark humor and contemporary identity and gender politics.

What caught our eye: The 2010 Emerson graduate’s upcoming world premiere of his play “not Jenny,” presented by the Bridge Repertory Theater. The dark comedy details the forced reunion of two sisters, after 13 years of estrangement, following a car crash that killed their mother and left one sister paralyzed.

Lightbulb moment: “When I was 15, I participated in a summer acting intensive for high school students. We did a playwriting unit, and each of us were given the opportunity to write five-minute plays. That was my ‘aha!’ moment, realizing this is exactly what I need to be doing.” Halberstadt recently completed an MFA in playwriting at Boston University.

Biggest thrill: “Those lovely, rare moments when my reputation precedes me, and I meet someone, and they’ve heard of my play but they haven’t met me.”

Biggest surprise: The deeper Halberstadt gets into professional playwriting, the more he realizes how much competition there is. “Every once in a while I become really humbled by the number of playwrights that are out there.”

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Inspired by: “I’m often inspired by reading about math and particularly number theory. This week I finished a book about the number zero, and it blew my tiny mind. I think there’s a lot of crossover on an almost philosophic level. I feel like plays are a lot like equations, and characters are a lot like numbers.”

Aspires to: “I want to keep falling down the rabbit hole, as it were, and see where it takes me. One of the big goals is to tell stories that are empowering to disenfranchised and underrepresented voices, by making the qualities that make these people disenfranchised or underrepresented secondary to the larger story. A play should be able to contain a character who happens to be gay or disabled or a racial minority, and it can be about something other than that.”

For good luck: Halberstadt keeps a bowl of almonds nearby when he’s writing. “They help me concentrate; it’s almost meditative.”

What people should know: “I try to make things as bad for my characters as I can, which is usually about poor communication, and I take the exact opposite philosophy in my own relationships. Especially since so many of my plays are about family, I feel like I have to preface everything by saying: This isn’t my relationship, this isn’t me with my siblings or my parents or my grandmother.”

Coming soon: “not Jenny” plays at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts Dec. 6-15.

Links:www.bridgerep.wordpress.com, www.mjhalber stadt.wordpress.com

JEREMY D. GOODWIN

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jeremydgoodwin.

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