Posted May 1, 2006
This is an enlightening e-mail I received from David Lane, director of Like Home, a new full-length play by Jennifer Mattern (Lane’s wife and the “Jenn” to whom he refers), running through May 14 at Main Street Stage in North Adams.
I always welcome response and dialogue about my reviews and other theatrical topics. David asked me to post this letter and I was happy to do so.
I was troubled to read your review of Jenn’s play on your website today, and wanted to respond as a colleague, and because I value your opinion. I hope you’re open to a dialogue about the play, since my deep desire is that we reach as many people as possible in the community, and from reading your review, I sensed that you felt mislead and that it affected your enjoyment of the play.
To answer one of your questions, yes, Jenn’s play can certainly be taken at face value, a story of troubled souls in search of grace . . . often not realizing what they are missing in their lives, only that they each feel sorrow, anger and resentment and the feeling of that something is missing in their lives.
So, as you sensed, Jenn’s writing is not the kind of “Western Union” telegraphy that we’ve become so accustom to in part thanks to standards set by television and the willingness of playwrights to bend to those standards instead of taking issue with them, and reexamining the potential for theatre to move beyond where televisions stops, that is (IMHO) literal, lowest common denominator, writing.
Jenn’s writing attempts to find the poetry in life, rather than stopping at mere dialogue. The lives of her characters are subject to the same exterior plot points that is customary in theatre, but what is remarkable are the inner journeys and emotional lessons that they embark on . . . and what they must sacrifice, and how that manifests in a change of self.
So, with that in mind, Jenn has determined to try to maintain a sense of poetry in the piece that relies on subtlety, and active listening on the part of the audience. Since poetry, maintains tension between what is real and symbolic, literal and metaphoric, Jenn takes this up as one of the tenets of her play. For me, this sort of tension is what makes poetry beautiful, and transcendent-that something can be one thing and another all at once.
As far as my aims as a director, I wanted to play with the Wizard of Oz metaphor on a subtle level, in keeping with Jenn’s aims, as I understand them. My hope is that the audience will retire to the cafes and cocktail lounges to discuss how the play functions on a deeper lever, since I felt that broadcasting (Western Union Style) the Oz symbols would take away from the audience’s tendency to relate on a personal level to the characters and their struggles, since an overt playing of such things, would (IMHO), create an emotional distance, something I worked hard to avoid.
So, then who’s who. The key to the Oz metaphor is to look at the inner struggles of the characters, their journey through the play, and the similarities therein, to the movie characters. To me, this is fun stuff, and what makes a piece of art, like Jenn’s play, so endlessly fascinating. I don’t think it’s beyond the scope of any of our patrons, but it’s the stuff that requires some thought and some playful analysis after the fact.
Here’s my interpretations (in a nutshell format)-perhaps others will see it differently, but, hey, isn’t that the beauty of art?
Ralph has always seemed like the Cowardly Lion to me-he is unable to find the courage (or will) to help his wife in a time of crisis, but eventually does connect with his youngest daughter Cassie, and the courage to admit his past mistakes, embrace his chaotic family life, and he finally even starts acting like a father to his kids. He even puts personal differences aside and forgives his buddy Bob.
Veronica is a like the Tin Man-she’s emotionally unavailable to Jose, and hides her “heart” from him beneath a plate of armor built from an emotional scar of a past experience. The puffer vest is a visual representation of this-that’s why she wears it in the play. She’s not huge, but has trouble seeing herself as beautiful, and so when she goes into the world, she hides herself in a kind of cloak self- consciousness. Eventually, she and Jose admit to each other that they are lost when it comes to relationships, a hopeful attempt to find common ground, and for a moment her armor comes off, and she finds her “heart.”
Sharon is Dorothy. She’s gone over the rainbow just like Oz’s Dorothy, a place of limbo, where life meets death and the unknown. Her family believes she’s in California, but throughout the play, there is the foreboding feeling that she’s gone someplace else.
Kitty’s character might be thought of as both the Wicked Witch and Glinda. She is forever chasing her daughter Sharon, resenting her for leaving her, and imagining the way she’ll pay for her carefree ways. In the second act, there are hints of Kitty that feel almost like Glinda’s magic wand reaching out to all the characters, helping to point the way on each of their inner journeys.
And I could go on, but I’ll stop there, since figuring this out is part of the fun. But the important thematic point, I think, is that each of the characters is able to make a kind of break through on their own-though they search for external indicators to solve their problems (Cassie looking for her sign, for instance), it’s only through an examination of self (and their past actions) that they are able to get on the right path, and only through sacrifice, that they are able to reach a place “Like Home.”
Gail, I hope you’ll take my thoughts into consideration, and do with them what you will. I’d be greatly appreciate if you’d consider posting this letter along side your review, so that theatergoers can have the opportunity to read a differing point of view, and see where I’m coming from. Jenn’s play may not be a classically written piece, but it comes from the heart, and the cast, crew and myself deeply believe that people from all walks of life will find it entertaining, thoughtful, and cathartic.