When Sandy Rustin was a sophomore in college, she starred in a production of Hay Fever by Noël Coward, and immediately fell in love with period pieces. When she couldn’t find any new plays that reflected Coward’s writing style, she decided to write one herself: The Cottage.
In The Cottage, hopeless romantic Sylvia Van Kipness chooses to expose her secret love affair to her husband, Clarke. What ensues is a series of comedic twists and turns that bring the true meanings of love and marriage into question.
We sat down with Sandy Rustin to learn more about the challenges of writing The Cottage and what she loves most about comedy in all forms.
What work, play, or piece are you most proud of?
Aside from my kids, I am most proud that I’m living a life in the theatre. I really find the joy in is the process of creating theatre, the community of working in the theatre, and getting to meet and work with such great people. It’s the doing of it that I really enjoy. Of course, I want things to have a great result, but I don’t really have one single event or play that I feel is like a masterpiece.
What element of The Cottage do you enjoy the most?
What I love the most about The Cottage and the genre that it belongs to – [British comedy of manners] – are the surprises, the thwarted expectations that exist where you as an audience member are expecting one thing to happen and the comedy emerges when it doesn’t happen. I love the fun that can be had not only by the audience, but also by the actors who are given the opportunity to play with that kind of comedic treat.
What was your biggest challenge while writing The Cottage?
The biggest challenge of writing a play that is so fully steeped in physical comedy is ensuring that the play also has a strong component of thoughtfulness to challenge an audience on an emotional and intellectual level. Yes, it should feel like a fun night of entertainment, but I also want people to think. I want questions to be posed and for people to walk away, perhaps with even more questions than answers about love, fate, marriage, women, and self-empowerment.
For those who are not familiar with Noël Coward’s work and the genre of the “bedroom comedy of manners,” what are some characteristics that make them distinct?
There are lots of twists and turns, lots of surprises, and an air of truth beneath a facade of frivolity—it’s as if there’s thought underneath all the cotton candy.
What do you most admire about the play’s specific genre?
I love the math of comedy. It’s more scientific than other styles of storytelling. There can be an equation to get to the laugh, and the challenge of finding that exact perfect moment to land the joke is a challenge I relish and live for. As an actress, though, I like exploring a specific period, and so The Cottage is an homage to those period comedies, which are really fun to me.
Why do you think The Cottage is a good fit for FST?
While my hope is that The Cottage will be for every audience, I do think FST audiences, as we saw last year when we did a workshop of The Cottage, are really going to embrace this play. At the workshop, they were ready to laugh hard, and they wanted to see the piece fully realized, so hopefully this production will give the people what they want!
Sandy Rustin’s The Cottage plays in FST’s Gompertz Theatre through August 18. For tickets and more information, click here.