Playwright and actress Claudia Shear discusses the creation of her new Off-Broadway play Restoration.
As Shear -- who had previously penned the acclaimed solo piece Blown Sideways Through Life and the popular drama Dirty Blonde -- notes, there was one other important element: Her friend and former director, Christopher Ashley, had been appointed artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse and called Shear to commission a new work for the theater (where Restoration eventually premiered).
She was soon off and running in creating the work, which focuses on Guilia (played by Shear), an irascible Italian-born yet New York-raised restorer who gets the chance of a lifetime when she's hired to get "David" back in shape for its big museum unveiling. "After Chris called, I did about six months of research at different libraries, like the Frick and the New York Public Library," says Shear. "And then I went to Florence and went to the restoration studio there, and I also interviewed people like a museum security guard and a local grandmother, who ended up as inspiration for characters in the play. I never thought of writing the play as a solo piece; in fact, I never really want to do another one again."
Ultimately, thanks in part to her daily dealings with a handsome museum security guard, Max (Jonathan Cake), a stressed-out public relations guru, Daphne (Tina Benko), and other Italians, Guilia changes -- as do the people she meets. "I really believe in the idea of change," she says. "I asked a friend recently why I'm always writing about redemption, and then I realized I'm living proof of it -- which you know if you've seen Blown Sideways Through Life. I think so many of us can relate to the idea of losing one's way and finding one's way back."
Still, Shear had no problem with the fact that Guilia isn't the most likable person ever seen on a stage. "I don't see why she can't be damaged and irascible and unconfident," she notes. "So many male playwrights write male characters like that and no one has a problem with it. But what's more important to me is that she isn't completely transformed by the end of the play -- I don't think that's believable. But she certainly has undergone some personal growth."
The play has undergone a great deal of growth as well. Both Shear and Ashley admit numerous changes were made not just from the La Jolla production, but during the New York rehearsal process. "I did 32 separate drafts from February 3 until last week," she says. "There were changes and cuts I had to make that I didn't want to, but this is now the play and the production I really wanted. Who is luckier than me?"
As for audiences, she hopes they react emotionally to the work, as Restoration is a piece designed to touch the heart, not the head. "I am never someone who wants to make a big statement. I am always just an earnest person," she notes. "Yes, I would confess that I happily wear a joker's crown, but truthfully, I can't even buy a tomato without it feeling like it's a heartfelt experience."