Jenny Rachel Weiner and Ellie Heyman come together once again for the world premiere of “The Chameleon.”
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” goes the old saw. But what about working with someone you love? For Jenny Rachel Weiner and Ellie Heyman, about to open the world premiere of “The Chameleon” at Theater J, that also makes work more like play.
“I’m literally obsessed with Jenny and her writing, both in terms of the work itself and how she works on it,” Heyman, the play’s director, says.
“The Chameleon” is the fourth time the writer and director have worked together, a partnership that stretches back to Weiner’s very first play in undergrad at Boston University.
“I sent her my first play ever—we didn’t know each other but I had seen her work—and I said, ‘I think you [should] direct this,’” Weiner says.
“Ellie was the first person to believe in my writing,” Weiner says. “I learned how to be a playwright in that room.”
“We have a similar interest in a full-body, full-hearted way of living and problem-solving,” Heyman says.
The shared approach helps when working on a new play, a process Weiner likens to chiseling a sculpture out of a rock. “The Chameleon” tells the story of Riz (played by the always luminous Dina Thomas), an actress starring in a new superhero franchise that comes under threat. After working on multiple drafts over the summer, Weiner arrived at the first day of rehearsal in mid-September feeling confident.
“One of the actors turns to me and was like, ‘Are there going to be a lot of rewrites?’” Weiner says. “I said, ‘No, this is the play.’ And then I showed up the next day having cut 20 pages and rewritten multiple scenes.”
For Heyman, navigating such changes with actors is like playing a sport.
“I’m preparing the company so there’s a nimbleness and a flexibility as things change and grow, so there’s a comfort and ease in the room,” she says. “And Jenny writes about these gushy, big-hearted families. There’s conflict, but it’s largely out of love. All of the actors have really been able to embody and advocate for their character. It’s been a wild, wonderful time seeing all of these people collide.”
The love doesn’t stop in the rehearsal room.
“When I read the play, I was blown away by Jenny’s unique theatrical voice and how she uses comedy to discuss contemporary, relevant themes around assimilation, identity, and antisemitism,” says Hayley Finn, Theater J’s artistic director since April.
“I’m so excited about the collaboration between Jenny and Ellie,” Finn continues. “Seeing them work with some of D.C.’s most beloved actors has been thrilling, and I’m honored for Theater J to premiere the play as the kick-off to the season.”
“The Chameleon” runs through November 5. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased here.
Want the latest on plays hitting D.C. stages? Join the District Fray community for exclusive access to guides and recommendations. Become a member and support local journalism today.