Academic journal article TheatreForum

Pilgrim Theatre Research and Performance Collaborative, Laura Harrington, and N (Bonaparte)

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Pilgrim Theatre Research and Performance Collaborative, Laura Harrington, and N (Bonaparte)

Article excerpt

From the fall of 2004 to the summer of 2006, Pilgrim Theatre Research and Performance Collaborative (the company I cofounded with Kim Mancuso in Poland in 1986) was deep at work with Laura Harrington on her play N (Bonaparte): from rehearsals to a public reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in December 2004, to further rehearsals and readings at Harvard and the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) in March 2005, to open rehearsals in June 2005 (BCA) and the world premiere at BCA in September 2005, to our first touring production at the Ko Theatre Festival in Amherst in July 2006 (preceded by, of course, more rehearsals). Over these eighteen months, a theatre company committed as much to sound and image as to words and a playwright whose visceral writing demands a tremendous physical and aural imagination met each other traveling similar paths from opposite points of departure.

Laura Harrington and N (Bonaparte)

Laura Harrington began her writing life aspiring to be a novelist, but a playwriting class with Arthur Kopit in her first semester of graduate school at City College in New York changed her course. "I had finally found what I didn't even know I was looking for," she says, "a medium that welcomed/included/incorporated my deep interest in the visual arts, music, and language."

Harrington's interest in the total expressive capabilities of theatre has led her to create texts for music theatre, radio, and opera, as well as "straight" theatre. She has collaborated with the composers Tod Machover (Resurrection, 1999), Elena Ruehr (The Song of the Silkie, 2000), Christopher Drobny (Lucy's Lapses, 1989 and Marathon Dancing, 1997, directed by Anne Bogart), Roger Ames (Sleeping Beauty, 1992; Hearts on Fire, 1995; Martin Guerre, 1993, directed by Mark Lamos), and Mel Marvin (Joan of Arc, 1995, and The Perfect 36, 1996). Of these, Martin Guerre, originally workshopped at the O'Neill Music Theatre Conference in 1993 and produced at Hartford Stage in 2001, stands out for the playwright as her first "big musical" (25 characters). She notes that "the opportunity to think/imagine/work on such a large scale was spectacular." Her Joan of Arc, which premiered in 1995 at the Boston Music Theatre Project at Suffolk University and has also been performed at the Manhattan Theatre Club Workshop and Wellesley College, probed the interior life of a historical character who would make a surprising reappearance (as a very different Joan) in N (Bonaparte). In The Perfect 36, "a big, old fashioned musical" about the ratifications of the Nineteenth Amendment that gave women the right to vote, Harrington explored the challenge of "making history dance and sing and entertain."

After feasting on the range and scale of large musicals and opera for the better part of a decade, Harrington felt compelled to scale down: "I decided I'd like to write plays that you could stage in my living room," she says. What emerged could be called Harrington's "war trilogy": HaIlowed Ground, Pickett's Charge, and N (Bonaparte). In each Harrington uses the past as a lens to examine and clarify the present. Hallowed Ground, set on a Civil War battlefield, probes the experiences of four young men and women caught up in the killing and dying. In Pickett's Charge, a comedy, a group of Civil War re-enactors "get their fondest wish and fall through a hole in time," says Harrington, providing her an opportunity to explore "our love affair with war." The cost and the glorification of war are both at the heart of N (Bonaparte). "I wanted to explore the idea that violence is like a virus cascading through the centuries," the playwright says. (In his elegy over the dying Joan of Arc, Napoleon roars: "The death we have unleashed rolls like thunder. Through the sky, through the trenches, through the decades, on into the next century, and the next....") In N (Bonaparte), Harrington turns her sights on the leaders, the generals, but also on those who, fascinated with power and the powerful, support the fantasies that excuse the costs of war. …

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