Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ripen Our Darkness

Play #63 - Ripen Our Darkness by Sarah Daniel

This was a really interesting play about a bunch of women living in worlds completely dominated by men. First we meet Mary, whose husband David works for the local parish. He and their three grown sons, it seems, are all but entirely incapable of doing anything around the house on their own (the mysteries of making toast or cereal, for example, are completely lost on them), or of understanding that the things that Mary does actually do take time and effort. Then there's Rene, whose drunken husband Alf holds her and their grown daughter Susan (who just had a baby born with a fatal birth defect) in a constant reign of terror. Alf ends up choking to death on a scone, leaving his wife and daughter feeling free for the first time. Both families allude to a daughter - Anna and Julie respectively - of whom they do not speak. It turns out that Anna and Julie both ran away from their homes and are currently in a relationship and living together. We also meet Roger (the vicar of the parish) and his wife Daphne, first when Roger comes by to check on Rene and Susan after the loss of the baby, and next when Roger and Daphne have come to David and Mary's home for a game of Monopoly. The conversations that the male characters have around these women are reprehensible - all about how silly or stupid or unreasonable they are. They completely ignore any sense of genuine emotion or intelligence in their wives. In order to deal with Mary's "condition," David decides to send her off to a retreat for women married to churchmen - of course this retreat turns out to be entirely silent, so Mary sneaks off to visit her daughter. Once she understands the life Anna is living, she is actually quite thrilled for her - proud that she has found her way without a man. But despite Anna's prompting that she should leave, Mary does return home, but having made the decision that life will now be lived on her terms. This, unsurprisingly, devolves quickly, as David brings in Marshall - a psychiatrist - to examine her. Marshall blames her for her daughter's "choice" of the necessarily unfulfilling lesbian lifestyle, and tells her that she is a phallus-obsessed loony in deep need of counseling. She tells him she's pretty sure he's the one who's obsessed with penises, and he storms out. She is later informed by her husband that Marshall has recommended that she be committed to an asylum that night. Having had enough of this, Mary writes a letter to Anna about how proud she is, and she calmly puts her head in the oven. When she awakens in the next scene, she is certain that she's been committed, but it turns out she is actually dead. This information comes to her from a trinity of women who explain that paradise is reserved for women like her who have lived difficult, miserable lives. They scoff at the masculinist Biblical mythology that puts these two-dimensional men at the center of everything, and they give her the option to do anything she wants - including to go back. She opts to go back - but not to her life. Instead, she seems to choose to haunt her husband as he plays a game of Monopoly with Roger (who has just recently institutionalized his own wife). But, much like in life, he only barely notices her, and she is left to wonder what on Earth is the point!

This would be a difficult, but interesting play to deal with in production. Daniels seems to come down pretty clearly on the "men are the problem" side of the spectrum. But what I think would be important is the realization that it is this type of man - this type of man who belittles and makes women invisible in their own worlds - that is the problem. The first scene is really pretty hilarious, as David proves himself utterly inept at every turn. And the brief peek at the afterlife is kind of a great payoff after watching all these women so put upon in life. Producing this play would take a careful balance between not making the men in the audience feel attacked, but still communicating the responsibility carried by having the power in society. And it would also be really important not to overplay the absurdity of the women's situations to the point of silliness. The early 1980s-ness of the play also might be a little tough to work around. But there are a couple of interesting monologues in here though - so I'll have to hang on to those for sure.

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