Post-show discussion – Saturday, November 18

We spent a good part of Saturday night’s post-show discussion talking about Rebecca Gilman – who she is, what her plays are like, and why we decided to spend a year telling her stories.

A few people were interested in our process of choosing each season’s playwright – we start with recommendations from company members, audiences and friends, and we have a four-person Artistic Committee that’s charged with the task of reading through the works of over a dozen playwrights and narrowing the field to four finalists. Once we’ve got our final four, we read a play or two from each playwright out loud read all the plays on our own, discuss, argue and vote.

We chose Rebecca Gilman as our 2006 playwright after an informal reading of The Glory of Living – the strength of her language and her boldness as a storyteller are on full display in this dark love story, and we started getting excited about spending the year with Rebecca.

The Glory of Living got everyone excited about Rebecca Gilman when it was first produced at Circle Theatre in Forest Park in 1996. The show, produced just outside Chicago city limits after unsuccessful attempts to find a company in the city, tells the story of 15-year old Lisa, who, along with her husband, seduces, rapes, and murders young women who accept rides from strangers along America’s southern highways.  Robert Falls, Artistic Director at the Goodman Theatre, recognized the importance and uniqueness of Rebecca’s voice quickly, and started commissioning her to write new works. This relationship resulted in Spinning into Butter, followed by Boy Gets Girl and Blue Surge, and, most recently, her updated retelling of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

As we were first reading Rebecca’s plays, we started talking about some of the elements we were seeing as being common to her writing; a sense of style or morality or theme that informed all her work. Chris Jones described it well:

As you read the burgeoning Gilman oeuvre, other common themes emerge. She’s fascinated by crime but is determined that her perpetrators’ actions are never seen as isolated from societal forces. She fights objectification but seems to understand its hold on modern consciousness. She’s never crudely polemical; there’s always a sense of life’s ironies and ambiguities.

We’ve had discussions after all three productions this season where the conversation has turned to the surprising complexity of the issues in the play, and the lack of an offered solution for those issues. The last line of the Jones quote above really gets me – every one of Rebecca’s plays is filled with irony and ambiguity, and that means things are frequently too real and too messy to be solved in any satisfying way in two hours.

From that first reading we did of The Glory of Living, we understood that this was a playwright who was telling stories that audiences talk about at bars after the show, on cab rides home from the theatre, over the dinner table two weeks after the play … They’re stories that provoke thought and debate and exploration, and it’s been a treat for us as a theatre company to send a full year with them, and to spend as much time as we do talking to audiences about them. 

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