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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 was violinist Vivian Sweet.
Sweet has been a playwright, screenwriter, lyricist, critic, journalist, teacher, theatre historian, and sometime songwriter and director. He was 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, Class Dismissed, and Bluff have been produced. In recent years he has performed a solo piece, You Only Shoot the Ones You Love (which premiered in the New York Fringe) and authored Kunstler, a play about William Kunstler, the radical attorney.
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 O'Neill (a book about the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center) The Dramatist's Toolkit and Solving Your Script (two texts on dramatic writing). A forthcoming book, What Playwrights Talk About When They Talk About Writing, will be published in February, 2017.
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, notably in a series of six productions starring Jack Klugman (including one at the Falcon Theatre which 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 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 lifetime 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.