When playwright Marilynn Anselmi’s son died in 2007, she thought the best way to honor his life was by creating something he would have enjoyed.
Anselmi’s son was a theater student at DePaul University, so in the wake of the tragedy, Anselmi began to write.
“Prior to that, I had no inkling I would ever write a play,” Anselmi said. “I think, as part of climbing out of my grief, this play came to me.”
While driving home after the school awarded her son an honorary degree, the play that later became “Raising Ricci” began to take form in her head, she said.
“From Tennessee to North Carolina, the play just fell into my head,” Anselmi said. “Like I said, I had never written a play. I do not think I had even ever met a playwright, but it seemed the story needed to be told. I did not even know the format. I just wrote it.”
Although she had no formal training, Anselmi previously dabbled in creative writing.
“I woke up about 2 o’clock every morning and wrote for several hours,” Anselmi said. “It seemed like that is how it went for probably a couple of months until I finished the first draft, which was very rough. Fortunately since then I do not have to wake up every morning any more. I think because the process was so new, and I was working full-time. I did not know what was a hold of me. I just had to follow it and do what it wanted me to do.”
Almost seven years later, Anselmi has written nine full-length and one short play and recently directed for the first time.
Many of Anselmi’s works have some root in her life, she said.
In addition to “Raising Ricci,” which is her most autobiographical, she wrote “Found Objects,” the story of a grieving family who reaches out to the family of the driver who killed their son/brother.
“My son was struck by a car, and the driver was a young boy,” Anselmi said. “I often wonder if I should reach out to him. What is happening in his life? Did he suffer anywhere close to what we suffered? That is kind of where that came from.”
Not all of her plays are based in reality, however.
“The Waters of Bimini” deals with pedophiles who are coerced into taking a chemical that reverses the aging process. “Becoming IT” is about a post-apocalyptic world where, due to radiation, humanity is becoming androgynous. Her most recent play, “The Osanbi Deal,” is about blacks living next to hazardous waste.
“I think all of my plays deal with pretty serious topics, not that there is not humor in it,” Anselmi said. “‘Taking Care of Mimi’ the Detroit Repertory Theater played it like a comedy. Even though it is very serious and it is very dark in some ways, they made it really funny.”
Another theme that pops up regularly in Anselmi’s plays is gender and sexual orientation. As a gay woman, this is another example of Anselmi writing what she knows.
While some of her plays, including “Mama’s Girls,” about a mother and her twins, one of whom is transgender, deal with these topics head on, many do not.
“One of the comments I got from a fairly well-known person about ‘Rasing Ricci’ said that they were glad that the two mothers were not the focus of the play,” Anselmi said. “It was just part of the reality of the play, not the reason for it.”
Most of her plays have been produced by theater troupes nationwide, although she said she has more success outside of North Carolina than in the state.
“It is disconcerting for me because I would like to be able to see my stuff without having to go to California or go to wherever and see it put on,” she said. “That may not be in the cards though.”
Having recently finished “The Osanbi Deal,” Anselmi said for now, she plans on resting for a while before continuing with her writing, although she would like to become involved with teaching play writing to prisoners.