Hardly a Garden of ‘Eden’

In Hollywood pitch meetings, in discussions with theater producers, the question is always the same for Jennifer Maisel: What’s a nice Jewish girl from Long Island doing, writing dark, twisted material like this?

Maisel, who’s been described as “David Lynch with estrogen,” explores child abuse, insanity, suicide, rape. In “Mating Season,” a young man sets out to supply all the local sperm banks. In “Mad Love,” a 13-year-old girl begs a Christmas-tree salesman to rescue her from her incestuous father. Now comes “Eden,” the tale of a suicidal woman with AIDS who withdraws from her friends and her optimistic mother, a Holocaust survivor.

Maisel, 33, may be a nice Jewish girl from Long Island (she even co-adapted the acclaimed version of “The Dybbuk” by The Wilton Project), but her adolescence was more like “Welcome to the Dollhouse” than “Leave it to Beaver.” She grew up on a suburban block in East Rockaway, where every ranch-style house looked identical and no one ever got divorced.

“But I strongly felt that was just a veneer, and I wondered what was beneath the facade,” says Maisel, who has made a career of wondering.

“Eden,” now at Theatre of NOTE, began with an ironic twist of fate that is as bleak as any of Maisel’s plays. The year was 1992, and the playwright, the recipient of a Kennedy Center award, was visiting a close friend, Barbra, a fiction writer who lived near Washington. During a morning jog, the friends discussed the dearth of plays about women with AIDS and the pros and cons of “getting tested” for HIV. The next day, during a routine doctor’s appointment, a physician detected something wrong with Barbra’s eyes and delivered terrible news: Barbra had AIDS.

Not long thereafter, another one of Maisel’s friends, an actor, spiraled into deep depression and virtually disappeared for a year after he was diagnosed with AIDS, much like the protagonist in “Eden.” The play, winner of a South Coast Repertory award, is dedicated to both friends, now dead. Nevertheless, Maisel says, the piece is hardly autobiographical. “Real life is boring,” she insists.

“Eden” runs through Sept. 4. For tickets, call (323) 856-8611.