Winnie Holzman carefully picked subject of her new play, ‘Choice’
“Wicked,” says writer Winnie Holzman, was a life-changing opportunity.
Holzman, who co-wrote the book for the hit musical with composer Steven Schwartz, says the success of that show made her think carefully about what her next project should be. The result is “Choice,” a play about a woman’s right to choose that is having its world premiere at the Huntington Theatre Company, starting Friday.
“I think a topic like this is what we have plays for,” Holzman says from her home in California. “This shouldn’t be the sole province of the political stage, where people are screaming at each other from one side of the question or the other. I thought a play might give people an experience where they might be surprised.”
“Choice” follows investigative journalist Zippy Zunder, who finds herself drawn in to the story she’s covering and discovers the choices she makes throughout her life continue to have unexpected consequences.
“What’s interesting to me is what happens when someone who is very confident and competent finds herself in a situation where she doesn’t have all the answers,” says Johanna Day, who plays Zippy.
“Winnie comes at this idea from such a surprising angle,” Day adds. “You might think Zippy is the catalyst for all the action in the play, but she is actually reacting to all these forces that are changing her world.” In the midst of reporting a complicated story she is also dealing with an aging husband, a daughter who’s about to leave home to move on with her life, and a longtime friend who is more judgmental than Zippy realized.
“What makes it so interesting to play is how funny Winnie makes all the characters,” Day says. “She has such a way of tapping into the things we’re all thinking about, but she approaches all the relationships with so much affection. No one is an obvious hero or villain.”
Holzman has a well-earned reputation for creating characters whose sincerity charms audiences. Her ’90s TV show “My So-Called Life” was a refreshing take on life from a teen perspective, and “Wicked” was hailed for finding a positive story of friendship within Gregory Maguire’s novel about the land of Oz before Dorothy arrived.
“I think Gregory did an amazing job imagining that whole world,” says Holzman. “Just when you think there’s nothing more you can learn about a story, we discover this character has her own story.”
For Holzman, the process of preparing the new play for the stage has been illuminating. She worked on “Choice” in between TV projects (“Huge” and the upcoming “Roadies”).
“I’ve never written a play on my own,” says Holzman. “There’s something about the way audiences experience a play as a group, and also on a personal level, that’s very exciting.”
Day says it’s been fascinating seeing the way Holzman has layered the play and fleshed out the characters.
“I like the fact that Winnie slips very thoughtful issues of love, loss, and change in the midst of some very funny banter among people who think they know each other so well,” she says.
Presented by Huntington Theatre. At Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, Oct. 16-Nov. 15. Tickets $20-$85. 617-266-0800, www.huntingtontheatre.org
‘Time’ of their lives
Award-winning actress Annette Miller stars with Joy Franz (original Broadway cast of “Into the Woods”) and Joan Coombs in Miller’s new “theatrical collage,” “Now Is Our Time: The Pleasures and Perils of our Third Chapter.” A collection of poetry, prose, and music that explores the experiences of women and men of a certain age, “Now Is Our Time” will be presented by the New Center at the Arsenal Center for the Arts’ Mosesian Theater, Oct. 19. Tickets $36. 617-531-4610, www.newcenterboston.org
Reading and discussion
The Poets’ Theatre continues its comeback with a staged reading of “Blue Front,” adapted from Martha Collins’s poem by actor and Poets’ Theatre literary manager David Gullette. The poem explores Collins’s father’s experience witnessing a lynching in Cairo, Ill., in 1909 through the lens of America’s struggles with racism, violence, and cultural responsibility. The reading, Oct. 24 and 25, at the New Repertory Theatre Black Box, will be followed by a discussion before the play receives a full production next spring. Suggested donation $10. www.poetstheatre.org