Roger Rueff: Oil Engineer with a Bug

By Koehler, Robert | American Theatre, January 1994 | Go to article overview
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Roger Rueff: Oil Engineer with a Bug


Koehler, Robert, American Theatre


The rise of 36-year-old Roger Rueff in the theatre world is not remotely connected with any of the usual points on the map of an American Playwright's Progress. No Yale, no Humana Festival, no Mark Taper Forum or O'Neill National Playwrights Conference readings. Instead, Rueff arrived on the scene via Colorado School of Mines, the Marathon and Amoco Oil companies, and the suburban Naperville, Ill. community theatre.

Armed with a somewhat irrelevant Ph.D. in chemical engineering, and until recently a full-time employee in Amoco's research division, Rueff suddenly secured a pair of critically praised professional productions at California's South Coast Repertory. Not only did the Costa Mesa theatre commit to Rueff's first play, the sharp-edged 1992 comedy Hospitality Suite that was mounted last year on its Second Stage, it produced his 1993 drama So Many Words in the same space a year later.

"I know that there's a pretty big stretch between careers," says Rueff (pronounced "roof"), who has now left Amoco to devote more time to writing but still acts as a consultant in the petroleum industry. "Actually," he corrects himself, "it's a ridiculous stretch."

A laconic sort who jokingly describes himself in play programs as "one of the nicer guys you're ever gonna meet," Rueff began writing "as an outlet" during his college days at the academically grueling School of Mines. "At first, I wrote nothing but short stories and poetry, and it was nothing more than a side thing, a release." The need for distraction became even more acute when he joined Marathon Oil as a researcher in grim Louisiana oil towns and wrote at night. This career track, he realized, would soon lead him to even grimmer Texas oil towns, so he returned to the School of Mines for his engineering doctorate.

Dropping poetry

His post with Amoco brought him in 1985 to Naperville, a "master-planned" suburb designed for company families, where Rueff lives on a street out of Steven Spielberg's fantasies with his writer wife Jennifer and four-year-old son Dylan.

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