A commission of the Denver Center Theatre Company, this play focuses on a woman at a crossroads in her life. Interestingly — and setting the scene for Cate’s own indiscretion — she becomes obsessed with her neighbor, who is exposed for having maintained two families in two different cities for years.
Cate is the mother of 12-year-old Maddie and wife to David, who has been unemployed for more than a year, unable (some might say unwilling) to find a job equal to his years of experience. That creates tension in their marriage.
Despite having recently relocated from Seattle to Chicago, Cate frequently must return to the northwest for her work in the computer gaming industry. When visiting, she meets Eddie, the proprietor of a new flower store, with whom she has an instant spark.
Cate assesses how to navigate “the vast in-between” — that state between being married and single, between commitment and transgression, between selfishness and responsibility. At one point this central character asks whether anyone should marry anymore when “the thing that binds us together tears us apart.”
This timely and candid look at relationships and marriage in today’s troubled economy, asks audiences, “Where would you draw the line?”
The 2013 Colorado New Play Summit runs February 8-10, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. To view an interview with the playwright, visit:
By Rob Weinert-Kendt for Applause magazine
If you happened to stop by Connecticut’s Hartford Stage in the spring of 2010, you might have witnessed a rare creative idyll, almost too sweet to be true: a playwright nursing not only a newborn play to life but also her six-week-old infant. At the back of the theatre.
“The stage manager was an old friend of mine, and she put a rocking chair and a music stand in the corner,” recalls Laura Eason, whose adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was created and first staged there, and is now playing in a new Denver Center Theatre Company production in The Space Theatre. That her husband, Erik Lochtefeld, was also acting in that original production meant that no member of this young family had to take professional leave to be together at that early stage. And while it’s unclear whether daughter Ellie, now nearly two years old, has greasepaint in her veins, she was clearly born with an uncanny sense of timing. “She really only cried on breaks—I’m not exaggerating,” Eason noted. “It was sort of perfect, actually.”
Having a child in the room couldn’t be said to have directly influenced Eason’s fleet-footed, disarmingly substantial adaptation of Mark Twain’s childhood classic. But there was obviously some sort of alchemy at work with Eason—a longtime actor, writer and director with Chicago’s fabled Lookingglass Theatre Company—and director Jeremy Cohen, Hartford’s artistic director at the time. (Cohen now heads Minneapolis’ Playwrights Center.) The April premiere was hailed in the New York Times as “sassy, ingeniously staged and deeply affecting… a near-perfect production.”
“I knew from the get-go that the production was set up to serve the material,” said Eason, who has previously adapted Dickens, Edith Wharton, and Jules Verne for the stage as well as writing contemporary originals (Sex With Strangers, Area of Rescue). “So I could write for the strengths and skills inherent in my collaborators.”
Accustomed at Lookingglass to have actors work out ideas on their feet and convey as much with movement as with speech, Eason brought along Chicago-based movement director Tommy Rapley to help craft scenic transitions. Eason credits this approach to the example of frequent Lookingglass director Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphoses, The Arabian Nights, Candide), of whom Eason said, “she knows how to create an environment for adaptation.”
Eason had previously tackled The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, and while she found the experience exhilarating, she admitted that revisiting Twain via the larkier Tom Sawyer was something of a relief.
Tom Sawyer has all of his amazing characters, the social criticism of the era and its foibles, without having the weight of working on what people think of as the greatest American novel,” Eason said. “So I got all the joys of working on Twain without that huge burden. When you work on something people consider a masterpiece, any choice you make is going to be controversial, whereas with something that’s loved but not revered, like Tom Sawyer, people are more open to see what your take is.”
Eason’s original take on Sawyer, shared by many female readers, was that it was a story for boys. But she soon discovered that a singular boy’s-eye view was precisely Twain’s aim.
“Huck Finn is a true coming-of-age story, where Huck begins to understand the world and his place in it,” she explained, “but Tom Sawyer is not that—in fact, Twain specifically steps in at the end to say the story ‘must stop here,’ that it can’t ‘go much further without becoming the history of a man.’ “
Not that youth is wasted on this youngster. There’s plenty of incident packed into this boy’s life: falling in love, witnessing a murder, searching for buried treasure and fearing mortal danger. But the story is ultimately “about play winning the day,” says Eason. “The adult world slashes through the childhood world with danger and jeopardy, but ultimately playfulness and childhood win out, for now. The guiding idea is really a sense of adventure.”
Appropriately enough, then, Eason’s adaptation springs to life as much in the stage directions as in the dialogue. A production note in her script refers to the premiere’s “very strong physical life,” including “carefully choreographed transitions (often using the actors to move set pieces, chairs, etc., instead of the crew) and highly theatrical ‘movement sections’ that are marked as such in the script. Future productions would be wise to try and incorporate a lively physical life and to explore the idea that much of the spirit and delight of the story lies in the movement of the characters and not just the words they say.” Eason said that she’d met with Jane Page, director of the Denver production, to talk through these sections.
As an example, Eason cited a scene in which young Tom follows Becky Thatcher home, in the course of which the two have essentially fallen in love (or at least puppy love). “No scene I could write would be as good as Twain’s,” Eason confessed, and dialogue would be superfluous. The result is a narration-free movement interlude that depicts the walk in sections, with Becky repeatedly turning around to find Tom doing tricks.
Lest this sound like a lot of cutesy frolicking, director Jeremy Cohen points out that Eason’s approach is surprisingly soulful. “There’s a spectrum of fancifulness with a lot of story theatre,” Cohen conceded, “that really plays into iconic truths we’ve come to know about iconic works of fiction. What Laura does is bring an emotional and psychological richness and density to the work that adaptations sometimes tend to skip over, like you’re skipping rocks across water. Her adaptations are able to have a lightness, but also have some meat to them.” Her Tom Sawyer, he said, “goes from skipping stones to really searching the ocean floor.”
Certainly one key to the show’s resonance is that it wasn’t created exclusively for young audiences.
"When I adapted Huck Finn and Tale of Two Cities, it was for Steppenwolf for Young Adults, and I was very aware that those shows were for high school students,” Eason said. “But Tom Sawyer was created for the general audience at Hartford; kids were welcome, and we wanted it to be a family entertainment. It can feel a little condescending to start talking about, ‘How do we make this story work for kids?’ If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Tom Sawyer works for kids. It’s been vetted for more than a century. The only thing we have to worry about is how to make it work onstage.”
Rob Weinert-Kendt is associate editor at American Theatre, and has written about theatre and the arts for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Variety, The Guardian and The San Francisco Chronicle.