Meet Creative Couple Behind ‘Into the Breeches’ at Cleveland Play House

Cleveland Play House Artistic Director Laura Kepley and playwright George Brant work on "Into the Breeches."
Cleveland Play House Artistic Director Laura Kepley and playwright George Brant work on "Into the Breeches." [Dave DeOreo/ideastream]
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George Brant and Laura Kepley have worked on a dozen shows together, but this one is especially close to home. Brant wrote “Into the Breeches” based on the real story of women who kept Cleveland Play House going in the 1940s while men were fighting in WWII. It’s directed by his wife, Laura Kepley, artistic director at Cleveland Play House.

“This play, of all of George's plays, feels in some ways the most personal, because he has written a woman at the center who is directing and who is also artistic directing,” Kepley said.

Cleveland Play House production from 1940s

Carolyn Wilson, Gladys Carlson, Lensdale Daley, Beth Wade, Florence Healy and Ruth Feather in "Carriage Trade" in Cleveland Play House's 1943-1944 season. [Kelvin Smith Library archives]

Kepley turned Brant onto the history of Cleveland Play House, including the fact that women were not paid for their work in the '40s. Brant researched the archives held at the Kelvin Smith Library at Case Western Reserve University to learn more. Women keeping the theater afloat wrote the soldiers to apprise them of what was going on back home, which Brant said was warmly received.

“They had some of the letters that the men had written back, and they were so moving just talking about how much you know it meant to them to know that the theater was still alive and still functioning,” Brant said.

Letter to women at Cleveland Play House during WWII

Part of a letter to the women's committee of Cleveland Play House from Franklin Cook in 1943. [Kelvin Smith Library archives]

While Kepley sparked Brant’s interest in the subject matter, she said she tries to afford him independence while working on an idea.

“With George’s work I really get there at the beginning,” she said. “That's also a huge responsibility.”

The two certainly share notes on projects and try to maintain a work-life balance with a 10 p.m. cutoff when they must stop talking about a play. In their two decades together, they’ve also developed how to disagree creatively, which Brant jokingly said is about admitting Kepley is right more quickly.

Cleveland Play House rehearsal of "Into the Breeches"

A scene from rehearsal of "Into the Breeches" [Dave DeOreo/ideastream] 

The two met in Chicago when Kepley attended one of Brant’s plays with actor friends.

“They said, ‘hey the playwright’s here tonight, do you want to go hang out and get drinks?’ And I really liked the play, so I said ‘sure,’” Kepley said.

In their 20s the couple worked together regularly with Brant writing plays and Kepley directing and/or acting in them. As they moved on to regional theater the two worked on more projects separately.

“Throughout that time we were always still collaborating,” Kepley said.

While the two admit they were concerned when they were younger that people might label them as a couple that only works together, they haven’t found that to be true. They also have intentionally balanced how often they team up even as they enjoy working together.

“This is the most fun,” Brant said. “There’s nothing more satisfying for me than working with Laura, and it seems like a full fruition of our relationship.”  

“Into the Breeches” runs from September 14- October 6 at the Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square.

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