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See Theresa Rebeck plays in the West End and beyond

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

One of the most intriguing theatre openings in 2022 is the darkly comic play Mad House, which is premiering in the West End this June. It’s the latest work from the talented American screenwriter, playwright and director Theresa Rebeck, and will star two exciting Hollywood actors: Bill Pullman and David Harbour.

It’s not the first time that we’ve seen Rebeck’s work on a London stage — audiences have already enjoyed her play Seminar at the Hampstead Theatre – but this is her West End debut, and we’re also getting the world premiere production of Mad House here in the UK.

Rebeck has had numerous plays staged in the States, and is the most Broadway-produced female playwright of our time. British audiences may also know her from screen work like the cult musical theatre-depicting TV show Smash, or from films such as spy drama The 355. So, what has Rebeck’s jam-packed career featured so far, and what can we expect from Mad House in London? Here’s our essential guide to Theresa Rebeck.

Mad House is at the Ambassadors Theatre.

Mad House tickets are on sale now.

Theresa Rebeck’s theatre work

Born in Kenwood, Ohio, Rebeck studied at the University of Notre Dame, and then got an MA in English, an MF in Playwriting and a PhD in Victoria-era melodrama from Brandeis University. All of that study certainly paid off: she has enjoyed an astonishingly prolific and hugely well-respected career.

Rebeck has had an impressive four plays produced on Broadway. Her first was the film noir-esque Mauritius in 2007, about two half-sisters who inherit a lucrative stamp collection and three men determined to get it for themselves. The cast featured Alison Pill and Katie Finneran as the sisters, plus Dylan Baker as a philately shop owner, Bobby Cannavale as a charming rogue, and F Murray Abraham as a wealthy but dangerous buyer. Cannvale was nominated for a Tony Award for his role. Read a Mauritius review on New York Theatre Guide.

Next up was Rebeck’s 2011 comedy Seminar, starring Alan Rickman – and, later in the run, Jeff Goldblum – as a jaded celebrity author and the unforgiving teacher of a creative writing workshop. Read a Seminar review on New York Theatre Guide.

After its well-received Broadway debut, the play had another run in San Francisco in 2014 and then transferred to London later that year, with Roger Allam taking over the lead role of Leonard in Terry Johnson’s Hampstead Theatre production. The London cast also included Charity Wakefield and Bryan Dick.

In 2012, a year after Seminar, Rebeck’s dark comedy Dead Accounts opened on Broadway. It featured Norbert Leo Butz as New York banker Jack who unexpectedly returns home to Ohio, where his sister Lorna (played by Katie Holmes) lives with their elderly mother (Jayne Houdyshell). It’s soon revealed by Jack’s ex-wife (Judy Greer) that the reason for Jack’s flight is a massive theft. Read a Dead Accounts Broadway review.

Most recently, Rebeck opened her fourth Broadway play, the 19th-century Paris-set Bernhardt/Hamlet. The 2018 work starred Janet McTeer as the legendary classical stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, who, caught between playing ingenue and maternal roles, decides to try Hamlet – as she did in real life. Part backstage comedy, part resonant exploration of art and gender, Rebeck scored another hit with the show. Read a Bernhardt/Hamlet Broadway review.

She has had numerous plays staged in New York and further afield, too, including the Bradley Cooper-starring The Understudy, Tony Shalhoub-starring The Scene, Raul Esparza-starring Seared, and the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Omnium Gatherum. Rebeck has also directed several shows, and she has penned three novels and a book of essays about writing and show business.

Theresa Rebeck’s TV and film work

As well as her extensive stage work, Rebeck has made a significant mark on screen. Musical theatre fans may know her best from the TV series Smash, which followed the creation of a fictional Broadway show about Marilyn Monroe.

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Smash starred Debra Messing and Christian Borle as a song-writing team who develop the new show together. Jack Davenport also starred as the musical’s ruthless director, while Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty were the two rival actresses hoping to play Marilyn: up-and-coming Karen Cartwright and seasoned ensemble performer Ivy Lynn respectively. The cast also featured Anjelica Houston as the show’s producer and Raza Jaffrey as Karen’s boyfriend, plus Broadway luminaries like Bernadette Peters, Brian d’Arcy James, Jeremy Jordan, Leslie Odom Jr, Will Chase and Andy Mientus.

The actual show-within-the-show, Bombshell, which features a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, continues to be popular with fans. It was performed as a benefit concert and may yet become an actual Broadway musical.

Rebeck has also won a Peabody Award, plus Writers Guild and Mystery Writers of America prizes, for her work on the TV series NYPD Blue. Her other credits include Dream On, Brooklyn Bridge, LA Law, American Dreamer, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Third Watch.

Rebeck’s movie screenplays include Catwoman, Gossip, Harriet the Spy, and Sunday on the Rocks. She wrote and directed the indie film Trouble, starring Anjelica Houston and Bill Pullman, and co-wrote the screenplay for the recent female-led spy movie The 355, which features the all-star international cast of Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong’o.

Theresa Rebeck’s Mad House

Rebeck reunites with Bill Pullman for her latest venture: the West End production of Mad House, opening at London’s Ambassadors Theatre this summer. The darkly comic play is about a man, Michael, returning to rural Pennsylvania because his father is dying. Michael’s siblings, Ned and Pam, also return home, but it’s not a happy reunion: soon, the family is arguing over their possible inheritance and how it will be divided between them.

Pullman stars as the dying father, Daniel. Audiences know him from his many big-screen roles, such as Independence Day, The Accidental Tourist, Sleepless in Seattle, Lake Placid, Casper and While You Were Sleeping, as well as TV work like Torchwood, Halston, 1600 Penn and The Sinner. Pullman also has numerous stage credits, including his starring role in All My Sons at London’s Old Vic, acting alongside Sally Field, Colin Morgan and Jenna Coleman.

He’s joined by David Harbour, best known for playing Jim Hopper in Netflix’s 1980s-set sci-fi series Stranger Things, and for starring in Marvel movie Black Widow, where he was part of a dysfunctional superhero/secret agent family with Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz. Harbour has also appeared in The Green Hornet, The Newsroom, Suicide Squad and Quantum of Solace, among others, as well as several theatrical productions. He was nominated for a Tony Award for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Mad House also reunites Rebeck and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, who worked together on Bernhardt/Hamlet and Seared. He also scored Broadway hits with shows like Present Laughter and the Tony-nominated Hand to God — the latter also playing in the West End.

Mad House in the West End promises to be another intelligent, funny and emotive piece from the unstoppable Rebeck, brought to life by an exciting cast and creative team. We’re hugely fortunate to have the show’s world premiere here in London.

Photo credit: Theresa Rebeck (Photo by Stonehill College)

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