Debra Monk knows a thing or two about accomplishments. Ms. Monk is a star of film, television and theatre. She has a list of credits that if written on the body would march up one arm, down the other, include both legs and most probably the person standing next to her. She has appeared in films as diverse as Quiz Show, Fearless, The Bridges of Madison County and had theatre roles in Chicago, Redwood Curtain and Curtains, to name but a few. On television she has played the ex-Mrs. Andy Sipowitz in NYPD Blue, been a mom to T.R. Knight on Grey’s Anatomy and Rose Byrne in Damages. She has been nominated for numerous Tony awards, winning for Redwood Curtain, won an Obie, a Drama Desk Award, the list goes on and on.

And yet what is the subject that comes up most often when talking with friends late into the night, the types of talks with close friends that reveal the truest part of ourselves?

That the endless quest for more awards, more accomplishments, basically more of anything will never really lead to happiness, let alone satisfaction.

“You think you’ve got everything if you get this part, get cast in this movie and then you realize, okay, that wasn’t really it,” Ms. Monk said in an interview with the Gazette by telephone on Monday. “It was fun but it wasn’t the real thing. And it doesn’t matter what your job is.”

So where is the real thing found?

Well, because Ms. Monk is an actress and not a psychiatrist she does not pretend to have all the answers. That is not her job. Her job is to explore what moves her in a story and to make the universal particular.

This weekend, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night at the Vineyard Playhouse, the fruits of Ms. Monk’s spiritual and creative quest will be on display in a reading of her new play, Dick and Lola. The play is not an autobiography but rather a channeling of the issues she is currently grappling with. It is a comedy, which comes as a bit of a relief. Why should the search for meaning be full of angst and misery, after all? Leave that for the teenagers.

In Ms. Monk’s own words, “Dick and Lola is a love story about women in their 50s and 60s. One of the themes of this play is that we all make lists, or some of us do, about what we need to have to make us totally happy. Sometimes it’s a relationship or a job or a house. Sometimes it’s a child or a certain amount of money in our bank account. Whatever it is, the idea is that sometimes we achieve those things and then we realize, wow, that’s not really what I needed . . . We first have to find happiness within ourselves in order to be really happy. And I think that’s a search we go on all our lives no matter how old we are.”

Because this marks the first time the play will be heard in public — only a handful of close friends have even read it so far — Ms. Monk was hesitant to say much more about the plot. She wants the audience to enter the experience without too many preconceptions.

Andrea Martin’s debut at the Vineyard Playhouse. — unspecified

The cast includes one of her best friends, the actress Andrea Martin, someone she often talked with about this subject. Ms. Martin is also a veteran of stage and screen, including playing one of the original cast members in the Second City Television series. She also knows her way around the awards table having been nominated for more Tony and Drama Desk Awards for a featured actress in a musical than any other actress. She won a Tony award for best supporting actress in My Favorite Year.

Ms. Monk and Ms. Martin have never worked together before, outside of headlining a few benefits, making this weekend’s performance a rare treat for both the actresses and the Vineyard audience.

Brian Kerwin rounds out the cast, another regular on the screen, television and Broadway, most recently performing in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County by Tracy Letts.

This will only be Ms. Monk’s second visit to the Vineyard. She appeared in the play Mrs. Miller written by James Lapine and performed at the Playhouse in September of 2008.

So why choose the Vineyard to premiere this play? One reason is her ongoing relationship with MJ Bruder Munafo, the artistic director at the Vineyard Playhouse who was granted an early read and told Ms. Monk she laughed the entire ferry ride home.

The other reason is understandable to anyone revealing something for the first time. The desire for a receptive audience.

“I love the Vineyard Playhouse,” Ms. Monk said. “It’s such a beautiful place and the people on Martha’s Vineyard are so fabulous. You feel safe there . . . a little less frightened. Although I am prepared for anything.”

Frightened? Ms. Monk is such a longtime veteran of show business; hasn’t she learned how to deal with butterflies by now? Although she has been a performer for decades, she is more accustomed to interpreting someone else’s words. This is her first solo writing project.

The movement from late night talks with friends to a work of art to be performed was initiated by her friend, the actor Jeff Daniels.

“He kept saying, ‘You should write, you should write, you should write.’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.’ Then he said, ‘Just write about something you want to write about and don’t edit yourself.’ He even gave me a little commission from his theatre, the Purple Rose Theater up in Michigan. I will always be so grateful to him for getting me to start writing.”

And this weekend the Island community is also grateful.


The staged reading of Dick and Lola takes place at the Vineyard Playhouse, 24 Church street, Vineyard Haven tonight, Friday, May 20 and Saturday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m. The suggested donation is $20. Tickets are available in advance online at and at the door on the night of the reading, if available.