Mid-Run Reflections on The Quality of Life

The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson opened on March 16 and at this writing has two more weekends before we close on April 7. We've been positively reviewed and audiences are leaving saying very nice things to us. I hope they mean them. I hope they're telling their friends.

I'm the director of the piece, but I feel like I've been wrestling with these themes most of my life. Why do bad things happen to good people? The seminary word for that is theodicy. It's where I live, most of the time. It's basically the question that gives me . . . what's a word that isn't condescending or patronizing . . . It's the question that makes me say to atheist friends, I don't blame you for not believing. In this play, one couple loses their home to wildfire while the husband is succumbing to cancer and they remain spiritual without belonging to any "organized religion." The other couple has lost an adult child to a horrific, violent crime and are more religious than ever---but not without their doubts. I disagree with one one thing or another with every single character. And I can't blame them for feeling and doing as they do. I don't feel as they do (completely) but I can see why they do. I find them all easy to empathize with. 

It's a contemporary realist play. That's something I haven't done in . . . twenty years? It's solid. A really fine script and in some ways, I've struggled with how to work in this style. With the Poe piece from last fall, it was so clearly not realism that I felt quite free to do what I wanted with it stylistically. Realist plays have a style that you can't fiddle with too much. I'm very conscious of the style of a piece. You can't play Death of a Salesman like you play The Importance of Being Ernest like you play, I don't know, The Star Spangled Girl. You've got to honor the style. I think we did okay. I think the audience reactions tell me we did okay. The review suggests we're doing okay. I'm in love with this play, so I may be blind. But despite exercising some creative muscles I haven't used in recent memory, I think we've been good for one another. It's a short term relationship, but we're good for each other.

It's a secular play that has religious content, with a religious director working in a secular theater. I"ve been reading a book, this very dense academic tome that is slow reading for me, since I'm out of practice reading academic tomes, and I'd hoped to finish it before we opened but I'm only halfway through. Through the Dark Field by Susie Paulik Babka. I have found the ideas interesting and informing how I think about The Quality of Life. I have found thoughts and language from my seminary days coming up while working on this play. Vulnerability. Defense mechanisms. "How does that make you feel?" the chaplain asks. I tried to keep that language out of rehearsals. It's not a completely Christian cast and it would have been inappropriate to bring my theological musings into the theater. (I find your Christer talk insufferable," one character says.) But this was a play I prayed over. They were short prayers. Mostly "thank you."

If you read this before April 7, 2018 and are in or near Houston, I very much desire your presence in the audience. Visit the Company Onstage website for ticket information.

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As always, I never have just one thing going on. On the writing front, I heard from the editor of the book that will contain my "pancreas story" and she has a publisher interested. That feels like forward movement for a what I think my be some of my best writing. I had applied for a one-week writing residency this summer and got word today that while I didn't make the top cut of 12, I'm on the wait list to get in, so I'm in that awkward place of kind hoping someone has to turn down the opportunity. I'm honored to be that close to the cut, though, even if I'd still rather go. And on another writing front, I wrote a couple of short stories that will be included in a collection of superhero stories (the siren song of super-powers is ever calling me). They're a little out of the ordinary for my body of work and yet right up my alley. (They're certainly a bit different tone from my pancreas non-fiction.) One is about a public domain character, the other a hero of my own invention.

As all these things come to pass, I'll be blogging about them. Right now, I need to go do a few dishes and put laundry in the dryer. Hey, all this theater and writing stuff isn't all glamour.