When Matt Hune hired Maurielle McGarvey to work on a play, the Rec Room artistic director knew it was history in the making. McGarvey wasn’t just a part of an underrepresented group of female playwrights, but the 18-year-old HSPVA theater grad was also the youngest playwright the company had ever worked with.
“One of my missions at Rec Room is to create a new generation of audiences,” Hune says. “I was up for the challenge and up for developing something completely new. So I was like, ‘Maurielle is the person to talk to.’”
Now, nearly a year and more than a dozen revisions later, her adaptation of Woyzeck premieres on the Rec Room stage July 17.
Woyzeck was written by German dramatist Georg Büchner in the mid-1800s—though there is no certain date, as it was discovered after his death. Widely considered the first “modern” drama, it’s been adapted and reworked at least 30 times.
The play’s original folio follows Woyzeck, a German soldier who agrees to take part in a medical experiment while also completing random jobs to help raise his child, who was born out of wedlock with Marie. When he finds out that Marie cheated on him, he murders her. Nobody knows how the original story resolves; Büchner died from typhus before he could complete the play.
McGarvey’s version departs radically from the original. Set in present day, it instead follows Marie and Frank, two teenagers exploring the concept of first love together, and what happens when things go terribly wrong. It plays on the original themes of jealousy, lust, and horror that Büchner first achieved.
“I feel less like I’m bastardizing another artist’s work because it was always a draft that was never finished,” McGarvey explains of her adaptation. “I feel more comfortable with that freedom that the piece allows.”
Even McGarvey’s setting is inspired by her youth, including the strange lure of the suburbs; though it’s not explicitly set in a particular suburb, it was inspired by McGarvey’s memories of Katy, where she used to meet with her then-boyfriend.
“I think there’s just sort of that appeal of the cookie cutter image,” McGarvey says. “Everything is divided into one specific look and style and [it can be] convoluted to try to keep up that image of pristineness and cleanliness in the suburbs.”
There is some risk to Hune entrusting his stage to a teenager, but he’s long observed McGarvey’s talent as his student at HSPVA, where, in addition to working with Rec Room and other local theaters, he teaches acting. McGarvey began writing her own plays centering on young love there, handing them off to Hune to edit. After reviewing some of her work, Hune asked McGarvey to help him with an adaptation of Yerma, a Spanish play about a woman with an obsession for becoming a mother.
“There was something that I saw in her dialogue that was kind of rare for her age,” Hune says. “It was on that play that I was like, ‘She’s got a good writing gift.’”
After Yerma, McGarvey plowed through applications for international competitions focused on young playwrights. It paid off—she was selected for the Eugene O’Neill Young Playwrights Festival in 2018, where she worked on Shrödinger’s Wife, a play about the complexities between the marriage of Edward Shrödinger and his wife, Anny. She also won an honorable mention for playwriting through the YoungArts Foundation this year. While it can be as nerve-wracking as it is affirming, McGarvey enjoys the uncertainty of her success.
“Writing is very risky, I think, because you don’t know that something’s good until you put it in front of an audience, and at that point it’s out of your control,” McGarvey says. “But I think that’s what makes it fun, that’s what makes it exciting, so it’s really nice when it works out.”
She’s not done riding the high of premiering Woyzeck. After the summer, McGarvey will go on to major in screenwriting at the University of Southern California, where she plans to write scripts for movies (primarily horror films), though she’s not opposed to the idea of working with Houston theaters again.
When she’s not working on weekly rehearsals for the play, she plays the bass and the theremin. “I periodically play with different people, but I’m definitely not good enough to get the bass live yet,” McGarvey says, laughing.
For now, though, she’s completely focused on what Hune calls an “abstract, challenging thriller.” Despite the challenge, whatever it may be, she’s confident in what she’s about to put in front of the audience.
“I am not afraid of anything,” she says.
Woyzeck, July 17–August 3. Tickets $30. Rec Room Arts, 100 Jackson St. 713-344-1291. More info and tickets at recroomarts.org.