I’ve been working on a draft of a new play (part of this Playwrights Foundation class) while prepping for a reading of a whole other play (part of this festival at Orlando Shakespeare Theater) — so I’ve been remiss in talking about a play I got to see at Berkeley Rep a while back: How to Write a New Book for the Bible by Bill Cain.
It’s also taken me a while to fully digest how I felt about it. It was a heavily autobiographical piece, from an author with a similar background to my own, which made it kind of surreal to watch. I kept having the uncomfortable feeling of thinking, “Wait a minute, did I write this?”
It’s about a playwright, who wears glasses, who was raised Catholic, whose dad’s name is Pete, whose mom is dying of cancer — and there’s even a family friend named Paulette. Luckily, the main character also happens to be a priest, which was the only thing that kept it from feeling like someone was playing an elaborate practical joke on me.
It was interesting, though. Given all that, you’d think it might have really resonated with me. But I found myself strangely disconnected from it. (I say “strangely” because many, many people in the audience were completely into it: sniffling, crying, jumping up for a standing ovation…) At first I thought it was because I’ve rather recently dealt with the grief that comes from losing a parent, so the insights didn’t seem so insightful but more of a, “Yup, that’s what happens.”
But the more I think about it, the more I think my response is related to my approach as a playwright. The play was drawn, at least in part, from a journal kept at the time. I tend to think that sticking that closely to real life can be limiting, because you end up writing what really happened rather than saying, “What’s the best thing that I could have happen right now?” I imagine a lot of people who loved it were responding to the honesty of the telling. Ironically, that was kind of a drawback for me.
That said, I thought there were plenty of individual moments that were funny; the whole thing was designed and directed really beautifully; and the characters were endearing (especially the dad Pete, just like my dad Pete!). And obviously my reaction was pretty specific to me — unless you, too, are a nearsighted ex-Catholic dramatist.
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com