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Smile

The Story of a Face

The extraordinary story of one woman’s ten-year medical and metaphysical odyssey that brought her physical, creative, emotional, and spiritual healing, by a MacArthur genius and two-time Pulitzer finalist.

At the height of her career, with her first play opening on Broadway, and a happily married mother of three, Sarah Ruhl had just survived a high-risk twins pregnancy when she discovered the left side of her face completely paralyzed. She is assured that ninety percent of Bell’s palsy patients see spontaneous improvement and experience a full recovery. Like Ruhl’s own mother. Like Angelina Jolie. But Sarah is in the unlucky ten percent. And for a woman, wife, mother, and artist working in theater, the paralysis and the disconnect between the interior and exterior brings significant and specific challenges. So Ruhl begins an intense decade-long search for a cure while simultaneously grappling with the reality of her new face—one that, while recognizably her own—is incapable of accurately communicating feelings or intentions.

In a series of piercing, witty, and lucid meditations, Ruhl chronicles her journey as a patient, wife, mother, and artist. She explores the struggle of a body yearning to match its inner landscape, the pain of postpartum depression, the story of a marriage, being a playwright and working mom to three tiny children, and the desire for a resilient spiritual life in the face of illness.

Brimming with insight, humility, and levity, Smile is a triumph by one of America’s leading playwrights. It is an intimate examination of loss and reconciliation, and above all else, the importance of perseverance and hope in the face of adversity.

Sarah Ruhl is a playwright, and writer of other things. Her ten plays include In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play), The Clean House, and Eurydice. She has been a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Tony Award nominee, and the recipient of the MacArthur “genius” Award. Her plays have been produced on- and off-Broadway, around the country, internationally, and have been translated into over fifteen languages. Her book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write was a Times Notable Book of the Year. Her other books include 44 Poems for You and Letters from Max, with Max Ritvo. She has received the Steinberg Award, the Sam French Award, Feminist Press Under 40 Award, the Playwright of the Year from the National Theater Conference, the Susan Smith Blackburn Award, the Whiting Award, the Lily Award, and a PEN Award for mid-career playwrights. You can read more about her work at SarahRuhlPlaywright.com. She teaches at the Yale School of Drama, and she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Tony Charuvastra, a child psychiatrist, and her three children.