1/21/2020 RAISING THE DEAD Theatrical Outfit’s Unexpected Play Festival / Working Title Playwrights
(Work in Progress Alert: The Unexpected Play Festival features new plays from Atlanta writers given professional readings in a workshop situation.)
“Mama needs a Time Out.”
Harlowe bursts onto the stage trailing attitude and “twenty years of pent-up rage.” Her husband has been caught in (another) infidelity and is (drunkenly) passed out on the couch. Where Harlowe has bound him up, giving her the freedom to finally leave. Her daughter is sitting in jail, rounded up with many peaceful protestors of color. Harlowe just wants a break.
“I’m not agoraphobic. Something is wrong with my hands.”
Myra is the yin to Harlowe’s yang. Meek, quiet, small, unprepossessing, she finds refuge in the solitude and isolation of pandemic quarantine, even though she seldom strayed from her home during the months before the lockdown, taking refuge from the anger and violence she believes is the dominant ethos of 2021 America. She’s not wrong, as a wayward brick-toss has shattered her window and her sense of security and self.
“Plagues and Protestors.”
Harlowe and Myra are neighbors, friends for many many years. Their balconies abut high above a back alley in New Orleans, a nearby bar providing a constant underscore of jazz and drunken revelry. A reference to the January 6 capitol riots reveals that this is today, probably this very hour. And Erin Considine’s marvelous new play, Raising the Dead, gives us an intensely dramatic, intensely revealing, intensely human journey into the hearts and souls of two women whose very sanity (if not survival) just may hinge on each other.
The philosophy of dualism posits that yin and yang are opposites but complementary, both required (and interdependent) in the natural world. The philosophy of Raising the Dead posits that Harlowe and Myra are opposites but complementary, both required (and interdependent) in the natural world.
Harlowe is a quintessential diem-carpe-er, bold and brassy and LOUD, sucking the marrow out of life with larger-than-life appetites and larger-than-life capacities for joy and love. Myra is virginal, approaching middle age, resolute in her standards but unable to reconcile those standards with the reality of, well, of human nature (or at least the nature of the humans who intersect her life).
For ninety minutes, Harlowe and Myra bond and kvetch and play and cry and plan and bicker and comfort. Will Myra find the strength to escape her self-constructed bubble-fortress? Will Harlowe convince her to join her on an adventure before the bastard tied up on the couch wakes and stops them?
Both women are, by their own confessions, “touch-starved,” Harlowe because of a marriage long-gone dead, Myra through her own sense of what is acceptable (even desired) and what is “gross.” It isn’t the sex that Myra craves, it’s the contact, the touch, the comfort found in someone else’s arms.
And to be honest, this play left me with a wonderful sense of optimism, a warm feeling that if such opposites can find comfort in their friendship, how can the anger and violence of America in 2021 ever hope to survive? But then let me remind you that I have enjoyed 22 years with a spouse who is my polar opposite in almost every way imaginable, so I’m inclined to be optimistic about the death of political extremism.
Two-character plays (and films) can be most effective at contrasting opposites, at distilling character traits to simple sound bites, at peeling layers of silent defense to expose “what lies beneath,” They are some of my favorite works to read or to experience -- Dramas like Strindberg’s The Stronger, Bill Davis’ Mass Appeal, Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods, Marsha Norman’s ‘night Mother. Comedies like Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly, Donald Coburn’s The Gin Game, Richard Alfieri’s Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. Even musicals like The Last Five Years, Daddy Long Legs, or John and Jen. All paint compelling portraits of characters and relationships (semi-sorta) uncomplicated by “other people.” Ms. Considine’s script is a marvelously effective addition to this esteemed collection.
It helps that last night’s reading was performed by two actors at the peak of their abilities. Mia Kristin Smith (Harlowe) and Lauren Boyd (Myra) are women I have seen (and been impressed by) in many plays before. Here they are breathtaking, creating deeply ambivalent characters who transcend their surface differences, finding a core of commonality that unites them even as their surface traits make them unique and compelling. I especially appreciated how Ms. Smith’s loudly proclaims, “I CAN DO GENTLE, DAMMIT!” and then less than a minute later does just that, quietly expressing her affection for Myra with a soft caress and an unexpected kiss. Even though they are separated by Zoom windows, they give the feeling of being in the same place at the same time, creating a two-character ensemble that rivals any you care to remember.
“The women in my life haven’t let me disappear.”
In last night’s talk-back, Ms. Considine cites as (one of) her “sparks” for creating this piece, her own sense of solitude and depression, feeling as if quarantine comes with a danger of “disappearing from the lives of those I love.” She cites her friends as those who would not let that happen, and, here, creates two women who have each other’s backs, who will be instrumental in keeping each other present and relevant, bringing each other “back from the dead,” even if that “death” is a self-imposed sanctuary from an unbearable America. Even from my privileged male perspective, it is a compelling portrait of empowerment, of facing the unknown with courage and not a little joy.
I absolutely adored Raising the Dead, and truly hope it soon finds a home on a stage (once live theatre itself finds itself “raised from the dead”). It is a beautiful story filled with dialogue that snaps and crackles, and characters who pop from the page and from the computer screen. I can’t think of a more satisfying way to have spent my Thursday evening.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #RaisingTheDead #UnexpectedPlayFestival #Theatrical Outfit #WorkingTitlePlaywrights)