Longtime Plainview resident Ellen Pober Rittberg has made her name as an author, with the 2010 publication of 35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will. While writing about books, the prolific Rittberg was a playwright. She wrote her last two plays while living in Plainview, but her first work was developed 25 years ago when Rittberg wrote SCI FI, a play about an upper-class household in a totalitarian society.
“When I wrote the play, I wondered what would happen if knowledge were suppressed and the government convinced its citizens a mass slaughter of workers was justified,” she told the Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald. “I drew upon my imagination and my knowledge of the Holocaust and then-apartheid society of South Africa. But now, sadly, in light of recent events over the past few years, SCI FI poses the question: how far does a society have to go before it reaches the point of no return and freedom is lost forever?”
Part love story, part cautionary tale, part thriller, SCI FI takes place in a totalitarian society, where classes are rigidly separated and communication between classes is strictly forbidden. But a plumber in the working class risks it all when he attempts to tell a pampered housewife of the ruling class of the horrible nature of how the government took power, hoping that it will sway her to work with him in saving the world.
When it was first written, SCI FI had a staged reading at the Nassau County Festival of the Arts in Roslyn. It had a subsequent reading at the Jewish Arts Festival in Commack.
“At the time I was a journalist, but I decided to go to law school,” said Rittberg. “SCI FI had a small professional production at Long Island University Brooklyn’s black box theater. Then I set the play aside. I went to law school and I had three young children. But I knew its time would come.”
The time did come, especially as the world around her began to change. Influenced by the rise of President Donald Trump and “Trumpism,” Rittberg saw an opening to finish the play and leave a lasting impact on audiences.
“The daily charged language he uses divides people,” said Rittberg. “It’s why the electorate is so polarized right now. People can’t even talk to their friend if they don’t share their beliefs. Our democracy is not robust right now. Many people are scared.”
SCI FI was chosen for inclusion in New York Theater Festival’s Summerfest (July 29, 6:15 p.m.; Aug. 2, 9 p.m.; and Aug. 4 at 4 p.m., held at the Hudson Guild Theater, 441 West 26th St., New York City.) Dale Davidson, a New York Fringe Festival veteran, is directing. Tickets are $23.
Rittberg’s play was conceived on Long Island, where Rittberg grew up, raised her family and got her start as a playwright.
“At a young age, I was running to the city to see all kinds of plays. My first job out of college was in the William Morris Agency theater department. When my three children were very little, I saw a blurb that playwright Ann Early was giving a free playwriting course in Great Neck. I got to see a portion of my first play performed. Early encouraged me to write more. And I did. I was hooked.”
She is heavily influenced by the Plainview community, with her kids spending most of their lives there. While she doesn’t live in the town now, the town still means a lot to her.
“I felt like people put their families first in Plainview,” said Rittberg. “My kids have life-long friends from the high school and they are still getting together today. Its a great place to raise your children.”
Additional reporting by Christopher Birsner