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Letters from Max, a play by Sarah Ruhl

Letters from Max, a play by Sarah Ruhl

By Sarah Ruhl & Max Ritvo
Imprint: Theatre Communications Group
Paperback : 9781636702124, 120 pages, August 2024


A profound and resonant tribute to the power of writing to make meaning in tragic circumstances.

This theatrical ritual, adapted from Ruhl’s 2018 epistolary book Letters from Max: A Poet, a Teacher, a Friendship, weaves together poems and letters between celebrated playwright Sarah Ruhl and poet Max Ritvo, Ruhl’s student who died of cancer at age 25. When 20-year-old Max asks to join Ruhl’s playwriting course at Yale despite having no experience writing plays, Ruhl accepts him, explaining that “funny poets are my favorite kind of human being.” The two become fast friends, and when Max’s childhood cancer recurs, their correspondence deepens, taking in poetic theory and dramatic construction as well as the steady schedule of doctor’s visits and chemotherapy sessions that more and more make up Max’s life. Still, Ritvo approaches his new situation with the inventiveness and humor we’ve come to expect from him. Far from the “Lifetime movie story of poor cancer boy and his wise, brilliant, loving mentor” that Ritvo feared their story would become, this play is never maudlin or sentimental, but is instead warm, literate, and very funny.


From Max, a Ritual, Ruhl’s warm and literary new play adapted from the book, is in no way a pity narrative.
It’s a theatrical act of remembrance and a sacrament of grief, but it’s also a

- New York Times

“In calling the play ‘a ritual,’ Ruhl isn’t trying to insulate herself, but rather to expose her own emotions in order to grapple with her grief: to state baldly that she is grieving, to offer up her own sorrow as an act of in the human rather than the divine, even as much of the play’s content circles questions of faith and belief about the afterlife.”

- Exeunt NYC

“This epistolary play sends the message that a life cut short can call us to embrace our own lives and—as Max tells Sarah in a dream—to feel them swaying.”

- Time Out New York

“Few contemporary playwrights utilize poetic language with the relish that Ruhl does, and Ritvo, it seems, was her match… In creating this grief-stricken send-off, Ruhl gets to chat with her friend once more and keep his mind alive for all of us to appreciate—and we are all the better for it.”

- TheaterMania