Can workshops and readings alter a playwright’s perception of her work? As Carey Crim’s Conviction went through a series of these—at Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Mich., Pasadena Playhouse in California, Primary Stages in New York City, Luna Stage in West Orange, N.J., the Asolo Repertory in Sarasota, Fla., and finally at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, Calif.—she had plenty of chances to rethink and revise. But she also wondered if she might lose what she set out to say along the way.
Her play, as it happens, is about perceptions and how public pressure can affect them. Conviction, which is scheduled to run at the Rubicon Sept. 3–28, is the story of a teacher students adore and parents admire—but who is convicted of a sexual encounter with a student he directed in the school play. Crim’s play is not about whether or not the teacher is guilty but about changes in the way family and friends regard him as the question looms.
Crim says she was conscious of the possibility of “too much influence” at the readings, so she listened closely to audience reactions but not too closely to comments. She cut a character, changed the title (from 23.5 Hours), and shortened and sharpened the play. “It ended up being wonderful for me,” she said of the piece’s long gestation.
When the script reached the Rubicon, the theatre’s producing artistic director, Karyl Lynn Burns, said she loved Crim’s “quirky comic voice and the way the characters deflect their pain. On the surface, it’s about a subject that has been trod before, sometimes well, but under the surface it’s something beyond that—about the erosion of trust and the nature of shifting moral boundaries.” After the Rubicon reading, Burns decided to do a full production and initiate rolling premieres.
She tapped Scott Schwartz to direct. Fascinated by Crim’s play, Schwartz mounted it in his first season as artistic director at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, N.Y., with Garret Dillahunt and Sarah Paulson as the leads. Another production is slated at the Royal Manitoba Theatre in Canada, and there are hopes to move the play to Broadway.
Crim attended rehearsals in Sag Harbor. “Some things that work in a reading don’t when you’re staging a play,” she learned. Schwartz found that the first act was shorter than the second, and he encouraged Crim to push the act break, which Crim says also “sharpened the build of the second act to the fallout on [the teacher’s] relationships from the accusation.”
“The play is a real conversation-starter,” Schwartz reports. “People in our community are talking about the issues.” Burns said that teachers who saw the reading at Rubicon were concerned about how they can reach children who need affection without becoming vulnerable to allegations. “We couldn’t get people to leave after talkbacks,” she reported. If Crim worried along the way whether her original Conviction would hold, she needn’t have.