Elaine Liner's Sweater Curse Will Keep You In Stitches

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How many plays has Dallas Observer Theatre Critic Elaine Liner reviewed in her career? "I'd say 3,000," she reports from her writer's enclave near White Rock Lake. "And at least 500 of those were Steel Magnolias."

She goes on: "I wish more characters had died in Steel Magnolias. There's a lot of chemicals in that beauty salon."

We're catching up because -- Well, Elaine's become a hot commodity lately. She's written a new play (in which she also stars) called Sweater Curse: A Yarn About Love (running through Sunday at MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville) that received glowing reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; She's created and will curate the first YOLO SOLO Festival in Richardson, a two-weekend affair showcasing solo stage works; And her other new production, Finishing School, a humorous look at assisted living told through a trifocal lens, will open One Thirty Production's season in March 2014.

What this means for me: Soon, I'll be clinging to Elaine's perfectly knit coattails, assuring everyone I encounter that we use to lunch together and she was "simply lovely." Those people will look at me in that sympathetic way, toss a quarter in my empty coffee mug, then step over me to board DART.

You get what I'm saying here: Liner is going places.

I saw Sweater Curse last night and can promise that it's charming as all get-out. But I must throw in this disclaimer: Elaine Liner has knitted me the nicest orange sweater caplet that has ever been woven by human hands.

Understandably, I'm a bit biased.

She also writes some of my favorite copy, so again, I was predisposed to adore the thing. Once you merge those skill sets together, I'm all in. That's why I thought it best for us to chat about her current projects, rather than have me feebly attempt a review.

Sweater Curse runs through Sunday, and knitting is encouraged.

Catch us up a bit with Sweater Curse: A Yarn About Love. Tell me how it came to be. When I'm supposed to be working I'm often looking for free knitting patterns online. Suddenly the term "Sweater Curse" popped up ... so I clicked on it and read it. It's an old wives tale that says you never knit for the one you love because he or she will leave you before you finish the project.

I suddenly was flooded with memories of unfinished sweaters for unfinished relationships. I thought, "You know, I bet that could be a one-woman play." Then, it just downloaded. As I typed, it became more than just stories of my old boyfriends and unfinished cardigans: I realized that my love of literature, and my obsession with knitting and my lousy love life could all be woven together into a kind of bigger message.

So I went back to the story of Penelope and Ulysses -- Penelope who knitted the shroud the whole time Ulyssis was away fighting the Trojan War, because everyone said when she finished knitting she'd have to marry again. And every night she'd unravel the stitches.

So, I begin there, because it seems to be a good place to start a sweater curse. Then there's A Tale of Two Cities, with Madame Defarge knitting the names of the condemned. There are knitting references in more than half of Shakespeare's plays. So I weave in the stories of my life -- along with these other stories of women and knitting.

What is your performance background? I got my undergrad in theater from Trinity, where I studied with Paul Baker (Dallas Theater Center founder), in the heyday of their theater program. ... We all came out of there with the Baker philosophy, which is: "You can do everything and you can do anything. You can write, you can act, you can direct and you can design."

It was a very integrated philosophy which really helped me blur the lines between covering theater and also doing theater.

Coming from the other side, did you have to flex that performance muscle again? I did. I was terrified. One of the things that helped me was last February I took an intensive week of flamenco lessons. ... It just made me comfortable about connecting with an audience, about moving my body, about just occupying space. Then I started work-shopping the show out of town. It was so warmly received by people that I thought "OK, now I have something I can feel confident about doing on stage."

You said the play just "downloaded," but when you were working through it did you approach it from your critic brain? And was that more helpful or hurtful than not having theater criticism experience? Well I'm very self-critical but I was able to avoid doing all of the things that annoy me to see on stage. Like one thing that really bothers me is women who mess with their hair too much. Or when they break the fourth wall, where they ask questions but they don't want to audience to speak back. I tried to do a show that wouldn't annoy me if I was reviewing it.

You said you were sorting through those half-finished relationships. How about some lady tips about who isn't worth knitting for? Well sure. Some women do it with cooking and housekeeping, others do it with knitting. If there's a message in my play it's that "You have to wait until he's ready for the sweater." Don't start knitting too soon: We all want to jump ahead in the scenario. Like I say in the play, sometimes just buying the wool implies commitment.

Tell me about how you came up with the idea for YOLO SOLO. I actually just woke up one morning with the words "YOLO SOLO" in my head. I'm sort of in love with solo performance right now, especially since Edinburgh where it's the predominant form of show. I thought "You know, we haven't had a festival here focused on solo performance. So let's put an emphasis on playwrights who produce their own work or star in it themselves." Immediately Richardson Theatre Centre jumped in on the idea, to start their season in January. People are bringing their productions, we're giving them a place to perform and we're paying them.

You actually have another project in the works that we haven't heard much about. Fill me in on it. I got on this writing jag and wrote this one that I'm not in called Finishing School. It's a two-act play about assisted living. And it's a comedy, with a happy ending.

You're already breaking all the rules. I've seen a lot of plays about old women or widows dealing with the ends of their lives, but I've never seen one about men friends who are over 70.

I've realized lately that assisted living is a lot like high school: You come in as the new kid, you've got to learn the ropes, you've got to see which women are available, you've got to push your tray through the cafeteria, etc. So it's about a friendship and what happens at a little over the course of a week.

I'm more excited about that than anything to do with the Sweater Curse. It's a full-length play, it's very funny and it's about how you really don't change that much with age.

Catch Sweater Curse: A Yarn About Love between now and Sunday at the MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville. YOLO SOLO in Richardson from January 31 through February 9. And see Finishing School at the Bath House in March. (Tickets not yet available.)

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