Friday, February 10, 2012

theatre notes. How to Write a New Book for the Bible.

I remember, vividly, seeing Bill Cain's Equivocation here at Seattle Rep some years back. It was so brilliant and polished that it set a new standard in my mind of what theatre could be, an electric confluence of writing, directing, casting, and audience. Ah, yes, the audience is important. Didn't you know that? The audience can make or break a show. If they love something, if they believe something, if they respond to something in their hearts and minds, that invisible membrane between stage and audience tears away and we all become one single organism. The actors' voices and breath flows out over the audience and back again, their energy coming into our bodies and lifting us all up, up, up.

Bill Cain's latest play, How to Write a New Book for the Bible, is very different from Equivocation, but it drew the same electric response. All around me, people were laughing and sighing and crying and, because it felt like we were coming to know the characters in the play, responding to the actors. Out loud. There are repeated lines and motifs, and some audience members would get so caught up in the language of the play, they would repeat the lines, too. This should have been annoying, but instead, it was transportive. It was a sign of how deeply we connected to the story, how intensely we responded to the human drama onstage.

This is an autobiographical play. If Equivocation was written out of anger (after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001), then this one was written out of love. This is Bill Cain's family. His father, his mother, his brother. It weaves back and forth between the present, during which his mother is dying of cancer (his father had died several years before), leaping back to childhood and forward to his brother's years as a soldier in Vietnam. The scenes between father and sons reminded me, again, of the film Tree of Life, and that line by Kim Stafford, (which I've quoted before), remembering a bike ride with his brother and the touch of his father's hands on their shoulders. How long can you feel a hand, steady on your shoulder, after that hand pulls away? It hits on something so real for all of us, our relationships with our parents and our siblings, how we have our own rules, our own language, our own history, our

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