From the Playwright – “the strangers”

When the Clarence Brown Theatre commissioned me (almost three years ago) to write a new play for them, I had a lot on my mind. Our first African American president was just going to finish up his tenure, and the possibility of our first Female president was just around the corner.  There was this feeling of hope, of possibility, of change – in the right direction.  But if I’m being honest, deep down, I was feeling incredibly anxious.

So, I came down to the CBT to meet with this incredible company of artists and spent a week together exploring, experimenting, and collaborating on what would be the beginning ideas that would lead to the play you are watching tonight. That first week was about asking a lot of questions, and having a lot of really difficult conversations. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to write, but I knew that I wanted to investigate Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Our Town, which premiered exactly eighty years ago this year, is widely regarded as one of the great American classics. The company gathered and we read the play together, multiple times, in hopes of understanding why. For those of you who don’t know it, Our Town is a three-act meta-theatrical play, set in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners between May 1901 and 1913. A stage manager, who serves as a narrator of sorts, introduces us to the town and its many denizens. Ultimately, the play is about many things: the transience of human life, how quickly time passes, and the importance of companionship. The play wants us to slow down, and take stock of our lives. It is the small moments that matter most.

However, when we read the play, most of us had trouble locating ourselves within the narrative.  This world, this America, was not one that we recognized. Life, I felt, could only be this simple, this easy, if you were a straight white guy. But where were all the people of color? Where were the immigrants? Where were all the Queer characters? Why did we only ever hear one language? What fantasy life was this? These questions lead to more questions. What are our responsibilities as human beings? What makes a life well lived? Can love survive? Does it even matter? What’s more important: a world worth living in? Or a relationship worth living for?  Could we truly have both? Are we willing to make sacrifices for the survival of our species, including sacrificing those we love most in the world? Finally, what does it mean to be an American today?

By the time I was finishing it, many of my fears about our current political and cultural moment came true. The idea that a play can change people’s minds is a really ambitious one, but if we can at least have more nuanced conversations about our belief systems, preconceived ideas, and assumptions about other people, our history and cultural baggage, then I think I’ve done my job. This play aims to paint a portrait of America today, and more importantly, to give voice to people you don’t often see on stage and on screen. I am an overly educated, first-generation Honduran-American. I’ve never seen someone like me on stage. It’s 2018. We live in turbulent times and much of that comes from the fear of not knowing, of not understanding other people, even within our own America. Sure, some of you might think, that’s because they’re not American. It’s time we got to know each other. This is my America. It’s nice to meet you.