Bay Area resident Freed, 50, has won acclaim with "The Beard of Avon" and "Freedomland" (both SCR commissions) as well as other nightmarish comedies and historical riffs. "You, Nero" will be read at 10:30 a.m. next Sunday.

"I LEARNED to write plays by acting. I also started directing before I started writing. So, when I turned toward language for the theater, I saw it as the whole event -- everything that takes place on a stage: the physical, the emotional, the striving.

I'm interested in the intersection of people's inner lives, fascinated by the drive of character, the terrible things that people do and why they do them, and how these things play out in the real world. I crave a kind of theater that operates on several levels, which is not a particularly fashionable thing.

In terms of big-D Development, anything I have in the way of an established identity is due to the consistency of SCR's support. I think plays that are developed around tables or in your study are at a disadvantage. SCR gave me the experience of hearing a new play with a substantial audience that included dramaturgs and literary managers and a critical mass of normal people. They take a lot of trouble to get plays cast right, which is great because your work needs to be read by actors who are in a position to let you really hear it.

Sometimes, I've come away from readings feeling really happy, or feeling like something's off -- which isn't always bad. If there's work to be done, and if you're clear about why and where, then that's good. Stuff is always wrong at this stage. The harder things -- what has to be fleshed out by light, gesture, time, meaning -- sometimes will fall flat. This is where readings can be treacherous, where you have to stay your hand. You can play it safe by cutting very severely, but you don't want to harm the play. And you do want to be surprised. Stuff you thought had no chance of succeeding will work and stuff you thought was sure-fire won't. Just leave it shaggy, and don't be defensive.

I've suffered a few setbacks with development too. A theater may not know the play, or understand the reason why it was written. Producers can be nervous and feel that a false step in their season is a disaster. They want to know that a play is going to work like a dream on their main stage. There's a big difference in a theater doing a reading because they're trying it out for their own needs and doing it because they believe in the playwright and want to fertilize the garden."

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