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Jeffrey Sweet (born May 3, 1950) is an American writer, journalist, songwriter and theatre historian. Sweet's father was James Sweet, a science writer for the University of Chicago who aided Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren in drafting two anti-McCarthy speeches; his mother is violinist Vivian Sweet.

Sweet has been a playwright, screenwriter, lyricist, critic, journalist, teacher, theatre historian, and sometime songwriter and director. He is a resident member of Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater, where thirteen of his plays—including Flyovers, The Action Against Sol Schumann, The Value of Names, Berlin '45, With and Without, Court-Martial at Fort Devens, and Bluff have been produced. His most recent play, Class Dismissed, opened there in March, 2009 under the direction of artistic director Dennis Zacek.[1]

His involvement with musical theatre includes writing the book to a musical version of Murray Schisgal's play Luv with lyrics by Susan Birkenhead and music by Howard Marren. Originally produced off-Broadway under the title Love, it won Outer Critics Circle prizes for best book and best score. It was subsequently revived off-Broadway at the York Theatre in New York, directed by Patricia Birch, under the title What About Luv? and was later produced in London and Tokyo. He also collaborated with Melissa Manchester on a musical called I Sent a Letter to My Love based on the novel by Bernice Rubens. Sweet is also the author of Something Wonderful Right Away (an oral history of Chicago's The Second City troupe), The Dramatist's Toolkit and Solving Your Script (two texts on dramatic writing).

Sweet's plays fall into two groups—those inspired by historical-political subjects and those springing from more personal impulses. The most produced of the former is The Value of Names, a story set against the backdrop of the aftermath of the blacklist. In it, a young actress finds herself facing the prospect of working with the director who named her father to HUAC during the McCarthy era. Since its 1983 premiere at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Names has been revived a number of times in the past few years, most notably in a series of productions starring Jack Klugman (the most recent at the Falcon Theatre was nominated for "best play" in the Ovation Awards of Los Angeles; it was a remounting of the 2006 production directed by James Glossman at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ). Other actors who have played in it include Howard Morris, Ed Asner, Garry Marshall, Hector Elizondo, Shelley Berman, Byrne Piven, Warren Mitchell, Allen Swift, Robin Groves, Helen Hunt, Sally Murphy and Larry Block.

Flyovers, which premiered at Victory Gardens in 1998, represents a more personal project. The story of a film critic who returns to the small town in Ohio where he grew up and encounters threats he thought he left behind years ago, the play anticipated the confrontation between red state and blue state cultures. The original production, directed by Dennis Zacek, starred William Petersen, Amy Morton, Marc Vann and Linda Reiter. Gary Cole and Teddi Sidall took over for Petersen and Morton when the run was extended. The play won a Joseph Jefferson Award for its script, and it was recently published in Victory Gardens Theater Presents Seven New Plays From the Playwrights Ensemble, an anthology from Northwestern University Press. A showcase production in New York in 2009, produced by Artistic New Directions, 78th Street Theatre Lab and Jeff Landsmann, starred Richard Kind, Michele Pawk, Kevin Geer and Donna Bullock. Northwestern University Press also published an anthology containing nine of his scripts in under the title The Value of Names and Other Plays by Jeffrey Sweet; Chicago Tribune theatre critic emeritus Richard Christiansen wrote the foreword.

Sweet has also written for other media, including hundreds of hours of television as well as radio adaptations of some of his plays. His work for the soap opera One Life to Live resulted in a Writers Guild of America Award for writing for a daytime serial in 1992 and an Emmy nomination. Under the title of "creative consultant," he also co-wrote the adaptation of Hugh Whitemore's Pack of Lies for the Hallmark Hall of Fame. The script, officially credited to the pseudonym Ralph Gallup, was nominated for an Emmy, and the show won a Peabody Award.

Sweet serves as a member of the Council of the Dramatists Guild, is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre, and is an alumnus of New Dramatists. He contributes a regular column to the magazine, Dramatics.


  1. ^ Weiss, Hedy (1 April 2009). "1960s turbulence at Victory Gardens' 'Class'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 

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167 news items

The Saratogian
Tue, 04 Nov 2014 16:33:45 -0800

Funds raised will send medical students to Kigali in Rwanda, an African country in desperate need of doctors; and funds raised will come by way of laughter, as New York City playwright and actor Jeffrey Sweet performs his “You Only Shoot the Ones You ...

American Theatre

American Theatre
Fri, 21 Nov 2014 11:52:30 -0800

When it was done well, the Harold could “make your hair stand on end, because you're in the presence of something coming together in a magical way,” says Jeffrey Sweet, the playwright and theatrical historian whose oral history of the Compass and ...
Virginia Gazette
Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:16:33 -0800

"Mike Nichols was unbelievable," the actor Jerry Stiller told the historian Jeffrey Sweet, many years later, "because no matter what you said, he had a line to come back with. It was a miracle. A miracle of the craft of acting." Nichols came to be a ...

Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal
Fri, 30 May 2014 13:15:00 -0700

In "The O'Neill," his history of the O'Neill Theater Center, a Connecticut performing-arts complex named for the playwright, who grew up nearby, Jeffrey Sweet tells the story of professional experimenters who have never relinquished the idea of giving ...

New York Times

New York Times
Thu, 06 Nov 2014 19:16:15 -0800

But Mr. Schaal's mime had a down-to-earth, blue-collar style that differentiated it from most mime, said Jeffrey Sweet, the author of “Something Wonderful Right Away,” a history of the early years of Second City. “There was nothing Marcel Marceau about ...

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Free Press
Thu, 06 Nov 2014 21:08:52 -0800

Jeffrey Sweet. I will boycott during the entire holiday season any store that forces its employees to work on a day that families should be together and take time to give thanks for what they have. Jim Harris. Will you boycott gas stations, grocery ...

New Jersey Stage

New Jersey Stage
Thu, 06 Nov 2014 15:48:45 -0800

Gene's style is anything but refined and easily skewers Neal and Emily's happy life with crazy zingers on fictional dentists. The breezy dialogue and easy flow both in and out of character is one the plays unique traits and playwright Jeffrey Sweet's ...
Herald Scotland
Sun, 09 Nov 2014 19:09:15 -0800

Jeffrey Sweet, an author who has written about the history of the troupe, said: "There was nothing Marcel Marceau about the way he handled objects. He was very in the moment. He could place 40 'objects' within a scene and remember where they all were.

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