An Inherited Wrecked Car and World Premiere


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

What do inheriting a wrecked Rolls Royce and world premiere play have in common? Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder. Teenage Wilder made a deal with her mother: if she graduated from high school she could go to New York City. “One month shy of my 17th birthday I moved to New York,” Wilder said. She’d graduated early. The visit was supposed to be just for the summer. She spent 13 years in New York and another three in Los Angeles. “I wanted to be an actor. I wasn’t willing to do the work it took to be good,” Wilder confessed. “But I was always willing to do the work it took to be a good writer.” It paid off. Sewanee area residents may have seen Wilder around town, although she doesn’t flash fame or glory, even though she’s entitled to. University of the South Tennessee Williams Playwright in Residence since 2012, Wilder has written more than a dozen plays and seen them produced at both national and international venues — the Royal Court (London), Denver Center, Cleveland Play House, B Street Theatre, and Hartford Stage to name only a few. This summer, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival will host the world premiere of “Zelda in the Backyard.” Zelda is the wrecked 1961 Rolls Royce the character Libby inherits from her father. Libby restores the car in a garage crammed with family artifacts and finds her way back into her life.

“‘Zelda in the Backyard’ is the most personal thing I’ve ever written,” Wilder concedes. The 1961 Rolls Royce she inherited disappeared for 10 years. By the time the Rolls reappeared, the car had weathered a hurricane, been wrecked, and was undrivable. She named the car after Zelda Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, a woman Wilder describes as “a bit eccentric. She was the sort of woman who would show up at a party late, and no one cared because she was so fabulous. I’d just graduated from college, was starting my adult life, and had a wrecked Rolls Royce in my care. Like Zelda, the Rolls was huge, larger than life.”

“For years, I’d wanted to write a memoir about the Rolls’ experience,” Wilder said. “But I didn’t know how to write a memoir. I’m a playwright.” The solitary rigors of the pandemic forced her to shelve a multi-character play. “A lot of solo plays got written then,” Wilder observed. “Solo plays are theater’s version of memoir. One-character plays lend themselves well to the genre.” Wilder workshopped the Zelda play at an Alabama Shakespeare Festival summer workshop in 2022 and that fall did a closed reading in Sewanee before an audience of 12 people. “I wanted to see if the play worked,” Wilder said. “There is a lot for the audience to interact with. Theater is a collaborative art.”

Wilder is technically a member of the University English department because Creative Writing falls under the English department umbrella, but she actively engages with both the English and Theater Departments. “Elyzabeth is a great outside-the-box thinker and problem solver,” said Theater Department Chair Jim Crawford. “It’s tremendously valuable for our students to see her working professionally as a playwright, getting her work produced. She moves easily and productively between the worlds of academia and professional theatre.”

“Solo performance is one of my favorite classes to teach,” Wilder said. “Students often tell their own stories. They want to talk about ‘What happened to me’ instead of what they did. The main character needs to be active.”

Wilder’s plays are a voyage of discovery for her and the audience alike. “Legacy is a common theme in my work, what we leave behind,” she acknowledged. “I never thought of my dad as someone who accomplished much. What he left behind were these stories. In writing the play I discovered why he lived life the way he did, who he wanted to be, and why he couldn’t be that person.” Zelda in the Backyard is a journey into the land of an uneasy universal truth.

This fall, Wilder will test-drive the play shelved during the pandemic, a portrayal of supreme court justices conducting a mock trial confronting women’s rights and abuse of power. But don’t wait until then to take a drive with Elyzabeth Wilder. “Zelda in the Backyard” opens June 13. For tickets visit <https://asf.net/zelda-in-the-b...;. “Each of my plays takes me out of my comfort zone in a different way,” Wilder said. “I write trying to make sense of the world around me.” Join Wilder and Zelda for an interactive journey of the mind.

2024 June
2024 May
2024 April
2024 March
2024 February
2024 January
2023 December
2023 November
2023 October
2023 September
2023 August
2023 July
2023 June
2023 May
2023 April
2023 March
2023 February
2023 January
2022 December
2022 November
2022 October
2022 September
2022 August
2022 July
2022 June
2022 May
2022 April
2022 March
2022 February
2022 January
2021 December
2021 November
2021 October
2021 September
2021 August
2021 July
2021 June
2021 May
2021 April
2021 March
2021 February
2021 January
2020 December
2020 November
2020 October
2020 September
2020 August
2020 July
2020 June
2020 May
2020 April
2020 March
2020 February
2020 January
2019 December
2019 November
2019 October
2019 September
2019 August
2019 July
2019 June
2019 May
2019 April
2019 March
2019 February
2019 January
2018 December
2018 November
2018 October
2018 September
2018 August
2018 July
2018 June
2018 May
2018 April
2018 March
2018 February
2018 January
2017 December
2017 November
2017 October
2017 September
2017 August
2017 July
2017 June
2017 May
2017 April
2017 March
2017 February
2017 January
2016 December
2016 November
2016 October
2016 September
2016 August
2016 July
2016 June
2016 May
2016 April
2016 March
2016 February
2016 January
2015 December
2015 November
2015 October
2015 September
2015 August
2015 July
2015 June
2015 May
2015 April
2015 March
2015 February
2015 January
2014 December
2014 November
2014 October
2014 September
2014 August
2014 July
2014 June
2014 May
2014 April
2014 March
2014 February
2014 January
2013 December
2013 November
2013 October
2013 September
2013 August
2013 July
2013 June
2013 May
2013 April
2013 March
2013 February
2013 January
2012 December
2012 November
2012 October
2012 September
2012 August
2012 July
2012 June
2012 May
2012 April
2012 March
2012 February
2012 January
2011 December
2011 November
2011 October
2011 September
2011 August
2011 July
2011 June
2011 May
2011 April
2011 March
2011 February
2011 January
2010 December
2010 November
2010 October
2010 September
2010 August
2010 July
2010 June
2010 May