Trying, by Erin Browne
(This is not a picture of playwright Erin Browne, which alas I could not find. This is a picture of Elise Link, who so memorably played Belle Walker in Trying.)
This last Sunday we finished reading through Erin Browne's beautiful and sad play Trying, and due to my own chaotic running of the day, we did not have time to discuss it. And it is a play people should be talking about!
The plot is straightforward and simple: two sisters, Lena (19) and Chels (21) are left by their parents after something horrible happens. Fending for themselves is made more difficult by their poverty, and Chels' pregnancy. This hardship draws them together, even as Lena the younger struggles to find her own identity independent of her family.
After a fight of sorts, Lena goes to buy a book, her current means of escape. But the nature of the book she purchases prompts the clerk, Belle Walker, to ask Lena out on a date. Flustered and flattered, Lean eventually accepts.
And eventually tells her sister, who at first views her sister's relationship with a woman with confusion, then hopeful amusement. As Walker and Lena's relationship deepens into something more than a fling, however; Chels recognizes that her sister may be leaving her just when she needs her most. The conflicting pulls of love and family, desire and duty, play subtly out at Lena tries to have them both, and realizing she can't, decides between the two.
The first play of Erin's Flux worked through on our Sunday's was Narrator 1, a fascinating, theatrical exploration of how the inner life of characters in novels was mirrored in real life by that of their novelists. In that play, Erin mined great comic and ironic power from the theatricalization (word?) of that subtext.
In Trying, however, that subtext is buried more traditionally beneath the words, causing the ironic power to become heartbreakingly sincere. Each of the scenes is so simple: a girl buys a book and gets out asked on a date; a dinner to meet the family is thrown; lovers talk about their scars and are accepted in spite or because of them; people knit and nervously eat fast food and try to ignore each other while reading; but through it all, a simple question begins to grow, until it becomes almost unbearable - can Lena be there for her sister and for her new love? And then that question becomes something even more difficult - is it even possible for Lena to have a different kind of life than the one she grew up with? And if so, does it mean leaving that good parts of the life she grew up with behind? These questions of identity become so powerful because they are so deeply rooted in incompatible relationships of love.
And the process of working through this play was particularly exciting because it featured the strengths of the Flux Sunday structure: we were able to see different directors and different actors takes on the roles while simultaneously seeing certain artists return to the play every week. Elise Link's Walker, Anja Braanstorm's Chels, Hannah Rose Peck's Lena and Cotton Wright's work in both roles and as a director brought a growing understanding to their work on the play every week; and that work culminated in the final two beautiful scenes last Sunday (and I must also mention Gretchen Polous' work as a lovely first time Lena!)
We're still figuring out how to make these Sundays run better; and I regret we didn't have a chance to talk about the play as a company; but I encourage all who read this blog and loved the play to leave a comment or start a discussion about something I missed in this lovely work. And it is my hope to continue to use this blog as a shared memory of our three hours of weekly work. Thanks to everyone and to Erin for Trying!