Fresh Eyes on WOLF PLAY, 2nd Installation

Feb 26, 2019 | Fresh Eyes

Artists Rep’s Fresh Eyes program brings ‘civilians’ into the rehearsal process. On selected productions each season, we invite writers from diverse backgrounds to join us for a few rehearsals, and then share their observations of the process and the play in the Fresh Eyes blog. We hope the distinctive perspectives of our guests will illuminate the inner workings of a production, and enrich the experience for our audiences and community at large.

This week our Fresh Eyes observer, Martha Spence, was in rehearsals watching as the characters and their relationships emerge and start to clarify. Here are her thoughts on this intricate process:

I find the play both thought provoking, and emotionally engaging. Here are some of the things it made me think about this week. This is, of course, very subjective, and probably contains lots of statements of the obvious. It’s just one member’s reactions. Use it or toss it, as seems fit. Watching rehearsals, and seeing the characters evolve into life is completely fascinating to me, and delightful. I very much appreciate the privilege. So, whether my thoughts are useful or not to anyone else, this is a highly enriching experience for me. My thanks to all.

The play made me think about how everybody has his/her idea of what ‘family” is. That definition is culturally based as well as coming from one’s own personal experience as a family member. It can be a vision we can articulate consciously, and it will include that which impels us from within — intuition, and subconscious drive. This makes me wonder — do we each live in our own family “bubble” — we see what is wrong or right with our own family, but without looking at our own agency in creating or destroying our “family.” Can a person really see their own family objectively when one is so submerged in it subjectively?

Every character in the play wants to be in a family — however, it must be their own idea of a family. Each of the characters has an idea of what a family is, and each character’s definition comes out through their actions. Sometimes the definitions work together, and sometimes not. Thus, there is good conflict to propel the action of the play.

Wolf/Jeenu — The family is the pack. There are clear rules for being in the family — find your place in the hierarchy; fight for your family; constantly observe and calculate. Jeenu has experienced at least two families, and we don’t know what his situation was before he got adopted by Peter and Katie. So he adopts the Wolf persona to give himself a set of rules and guidelines within which to act. The wolf persona also gives him one constant structure in his life that he can use to try and make sense of the ever changing family structures that confront him. It gives him a way to navigate the behaviors of the adults who come into his life — adults who have the power to uproot him completely, and who have done just that. Jeenu’s idea of family is about safety and protection — his safety as a member of the pack, and his protection of the pack and his place in it.

Robin — The family is marriage, and a child with whom (or to whom — there’s a difference) she can act out her idea of a mom. Robin wants to bond, connect with Jeenu. Robin is very conscious of whether she being a “good” mom, by her own definition, or a “bad” mom (child in pee), or if she is liked as much, or is as close to the child as Ash. Her idea of how to be a mom is probably a combination of her reaction to her own mother, and a desire for the kind of love only parents and children can experience. She seems to genuinely want a child in her life. Some of the impulse is loving, and some of it is ego — wanting to be a good mom. Her idea of family includes protecting your child, and she is protective of Jeenu. The scene where she tells Ryan that she chooses her child over him is powerful, and shows, to me at least, her evolution from wanting to be some abstract idea of a mom, to reacting from a deeply felt place of protecting that which most needs protecting — her child.

Ash — The family is marriage and, before Jeenu, not necessarily something that included a child. However, her view of family comes to include a child, when that child is Jeenu. Ash sees her role in the family as breadwinner. Maybe Ash’s ambivalence about having a child works in her favor, because she doesn’t have Robin’s preconceived idea of what having a child should be like. This means she can be more open to Jeenu just being who he is. She takes him as he presents himself, instead of laying expectations on him.

Ryan — The family is marriage, and can include children. His idea of marriage has recently shifted to include the idea of same-sex marriage, but when he sees a male child being raised by two women, his definition of family reverts to one where there must be a dad for a male child. Ryan is protective of family, but as events unfold, the family he is willing to protect is Robin and Ash, although he might argue he is protecting Jeenu by seeing to it he has a dad. Still, he doesn’t seem to be protecting Jeenu because he connects to him as a family member.

Peter’s idea of family starts with a heterosexual marriage, but then he gets a divorce. So his commitment to heterosexual marriage seems secondary to his wanting to see Jeenu raised with a male adult. I wonder, however, if that’s all there is to his desire to have custody of Jeenu again. The newborn that he and Katie have is a boy. He’s willing to abandon that child, a male who will be raised by a female, in favor of raising Jeenu. It seems like he really does miss Jeenu. Is the line that he thinks Jeenu needs to be raised by a father, just an excuse for getting Jeenu back? Is he really abandoning the baby son, or does he plan to stay in the child’s life in some way — I don’t think that’s answerable from the script, but I do wonder. Does he just not like the messiness of dealing with a baby, and prefers the older child that can talk, and to whom he can talk and get a response? Peter seems confused. I wonder what expectations he is laying on Jeenu, and what void he expects him to fill.

Where does Jeenu fit with each person’s idea of family? Jeenu is a disruption to Ryan’s concept of the family which Ryan has defined as having a sister who is married, and a sister-in-law he considers a friend, and includes his mom. Jeenu is a disruption to Ash’s life goals, until she finds she cares more about him than about her previous goals. Jeenu fills Robin’s desire for a child, but not in the way she had hoped or expected, so she is confused. Jeenu is a regret for Peter who now wants him back to fill some not completely clear role in his life.

What about the disruption to Jeenu’s life? He is the outsider brought into a new environment — over and over again. His first reaction when being left by Peter, Sr. is to resist being left. Yet, Peter, Sr. ignored Jeenu’s name, assuming he knew it, and called the child Peter, Jr. He erased Jeenu’s identity, and wolf says at one point that Peters are not 100% trustworthy. Even though Peter erased it, Jeenu held onto his name, and uttered it when he found a member of his pack — Ash. Jeenu’s adoption by Robin and Ash is at least the second disruption in his life — the first when he was adopted by Peter and Katie — and we don’t know what his environment was prior to the adoption by Peter and Katie. He may have been taken from his family of origin when he was old enough to be aware of it, or he may have been in an orphanage from the time he was too young to remember any other situation. In any case, it is no wonder he “observes and calculates” constantly. Who knows when the next change will come — and, sad to say, it does, when he is put in the custody of the state.

I found Ash’s fight bout scene very powerful emotionally. In this scene the whole family is participating as a family — Ash is at the center in an important battle she will win or lose, and winning it means fulfilling her role as breadwinner. Ryan is guiding her through the fight, and rooting for her. Robin and Jeenu are cheering her on, supporting her. When Jeenu sees Ash being harmed, he takes on the role of parent/protector even though he is a child. He has decided that Ash is in his pack, or he is in hers. This act separates him completely from Ryan, which was not necessarily Jeenu’s intention, but protecting Ash was, for Jeenu, primary, and primal.

I found the Wolf’s comment that “The wolf stays quiet, but hears everything” very powerful for a couple of reasons. First, this may be the first rule of survival for the wolf whose environment keeps changing dramatically. Staying quiet, hearing everything, allows him to observe and calculate, and survive. Second, hearing everything when adults don’t think the kids are listening, is what kids do. They listen when you don’t think they are, and then ask about, or repeat back to you, something they heard that stayed on their mind. Sometimes it’s amusing, sometimes it’s embarrassing, sometimes it’s not said, but shows up in behavior. The comment about staying quiet, but hearing everything, is about being a wolf, but it’s also about being a child.

TABLE|ROOM|STAGE (T|R|S) was established in 2015 and is Artists Rep’s new play program whose mission is to develop and produce new work that vividly expresses Artists Rep’s aesthetic values.

We focus on work by writers of color, women, LGBTQIA+ and gender nonconforming writers, and offer an environment where these playwrights can create provocative, intimate new theatre pieces that challenge, illuminate, and inspire.

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