In The Butterfly Collection - indeed in all the plays in this anthology - Theresa Rebeck asks big questions: What does it mean to be human? How do we hold onto our humanity? What's it like on the dark side? What are the limits? What do we risk? What are the consequences? What endures? In marriage? Family? Art? The world? Her questions are epic in scope, but rooted in specific people, places, and events, all with the tang of lived history.
In Rebeck's 1998 drama Abstract Expression, a woman supports her aging father by toiling as a cater-waiter at wealthy people's dinner parties. Thoughtless remarks and unwanted scrutiny are the price Jenny pays to put food on the table (even if it is rich folks' leftovers), but her labor helps protect something precious. Her father, a once-famous Abstract Expressionist painter, hasn't shown his work in years but has steadfastly continued to pursue his vision, creating works that are seen by no one but Jenny. With biting humor and a deep undercurrent of love and sorrow, father and daughter are forced to face what happens when art and the marketplace collide. It's a classic Theresa Rebeck play: life as we know it, but heightened, deepened, and sharpened to a knife edge.
Her characters are human beings with all that makes them human. Whether it's a character whose wit and charm we'd all like to possess (like Haley in Bad Dates), someone who forces us to face our own dark potential (like Helen in The Water's Edge), or one who actively courts self-destruction (like Charlie in The Scene), Rebeck's characters get under the skin. Their passions, their tenderness, their rage, their weaknesses, their joys become our own.