Paula Vogel
Paula Vogel

2004-05 Residency One Playwright

A productive playwright since the late 1970s, Vogel first came to national prominence with her AIDS-related seriocomedy The Baltimore Waltz, which won the Obie award for Best Play in 1992. She is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning play How I Learned To Drive (1997), which examines the impact and echoes of child sexual abuse and incest. Other notable plays include Desdemona, A Play About A Handkerchief (1979); The Oldest Profession (1981); And Baby Makes Seven (1984); Hot 'N' Throbbing (1994); and The Mineola Twins (1996).

Although no particular theme or topic dominates her work, she often examines traditionally controversial issues such as sexual abuse and prostitution. Asserting that she "writes the play backwards," moving from emotional circumstances and character to craft narrative structure, Vogel says, "My writing isn't actually guided by issues. ... I only write about things that directly impact my life." Vogel's family, especially her late brother Carl Vogel, serves as an influence to her writings. Carl's likeness appears in such plays as The Long Christmas Ride Home (2003), The Baltimore Waltz, and And Baby Makes Seven.

"Vogel tends to select sensitive, difficult, fraught issues to theatricalize," theatre theorist Jill Dolan comments, "and to spin them with a dramaturgy that’s at once creative, highly imaginative, and brutally honest." Her work embraces theatrical devices from across several traditions, incorporating, in various works, direct address, bunraku puppetry, omniscient narration, and fantasy sequences. Critic David Finkel finds this breadth in Vogel's career to be reflective of a general tendency toward stylistic reinvention from work to work. "This playwright recoils at the notion of writing plays that are alike in their composition," Finkel writes. "She wants each play to be different in texture from those that have preceded it."

Vogel, a renowned teacher of playwriting, counts among her former students Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winner Bridget Carpenter, Obie Award-winner Adam Bock, MacArthur Fellow Sarah Ruhl, and Pulitzer Prize-winners Nilo Cruz and Lynn Nottage.

During her two decades leading the graduate playwriting program and new play festival at Brown University, Vogel helped develop a nationally-recognized center for educational theatre, culminating in the creation of the Brown/Trinity Repertory Company Consortium with Oskar Eustis, then Trinity's artistic director, in 2002. She left Brown in 2008 to assume her current posts as adjunct professor and the Chair of the playwriting department at Yale School of Drama, and the Playwright-in-Residence at Yale Repertory Theatre. Vogel previously served as an instructor at Cornell University during her graduate work in the mid-1970s.

Second Stage Theatre produced How I Learned To Drive as part of their 2011-12 season. It was the first New York City production of this show in 15 years.

Past Productions

The Oldest Profession
The Baltimore Waltz
Hot 'N' Throbbing
Paula Vogel photo by Susan Johann.

Now At The Center