Small Pond Entertainment Presents
by David Ian Lee
directed by Nat Cassidy
“A war is coming, but not the one we expect.”
Featuring: Micah Chartrand, David Dartley*, Emily Hagburg, Jason Griffith*, David Ian Lee*, L. Jay Meyer*, Karen Sternberg*, Craig Lee Thomas* & Kristen Vaughan*
Limited Engagement at the Manhattan Theatre Source
July 20 - 22
August 3 - 5
Reservations: 212-501-4751 or advance purchase at https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/60282
(Spoiler alert if you read below! Spoiler alert if you read below!)
"Thank you, Katie."
Teri knows loss: she has lost her romantic relationship with Al (Craig Lee Thomas), a man far more capable of intimacy than her husband Bobby (David Ian Lee); she and Bobby have lost their daughter Katie to a truly horrific illness; and over the course of the first act, she will lose Bobby to the lure of a life of meaning, building roads in Afghanistan. When Bobby is kidnapped by Kadir (Micah Chartrand), a Pashtun determined to repel the imperialist do-gooders, it appears that Teri may have lost him completely.
In the second act, she uses the fame brought her by Bobby's capture to become the leader of a progressive political movement. This brings Teri into direct conflict with Rachel (Kristen Vaughan), a right wing talk show host who capitalizes on the War on Terror to become a mega-star. It was Rachel who broke the news of Bobby's capture, and she has passionately fixated on the truth of his uncertain whereabouts on her program, The American Agenda. The center of Act 2 is the scene where Teri goes on the Agenda to challenge Rachel's politics, only to have Rachel shock her with the truth of Bobby's whereabouts. The two woman fight for ownership of Bobby's loss, and Rachel seems to win.
That's when the page who has been running the interview shows clear sympathy for the heartbroken Teri, and Teri asks her name in gratitude. In that moment, feeling the loss of her husband, which reminds her of the loss of her daughter, Teri shows her true character by reaching out to thank this stranger who works for her enemy. When the page says her name is Katie, something about that coincidence, that little karmic gift in that moment of incredible need, makes Sternberg's reply, "Thank you, Katie", feel like the realization that Rachel can NEVER own Bobby's loss; that is only hers, Katie's loss is now only hers, and for the first time in the play, she is grateful for it.
Teri's journey into an ownership of loss echoes out to Mahid, an unwilling ally of Kadir, who doesn't want the US to own the death of his father (an architect in Afghanistan who became a janitor working at the Twin Towers); and it echoes out to Rachel, who uses the deaths "of the 3,000", (as she calls the victims of 9/11) to wage an impossibly righteous and incredibly lucrative war on the Left. Katie's death, the central loss in this play of loss, is given to Mahid by Bobby, and he repays that gift by denying a terrible man ownership of Bobby's death; and it is given to Rachel by Teri in the final scene of the play, where at last Rachel is called to account for making politics of the most intimately personal.
When Flux developed Sleeper at Flux Sunday, I was struck by the overwhelming power of Rachel within the play. She is by far the wittiest, smartest and most vital character in Sleeper; as Bobby is drugging himself and Teri is sputtering forth Leftist platitudes, Rachel omnivorously devours every good thing in sight with the righteous pleasure of one of God's chosen. At Flux Sundays, this role was indelibly stamped in my mind by Jane Taylor, who twirled malevolently through Rachel's verbal and moral twists with voracious delight and humanity. Though we had many excellent Teri's read the role, Jane's Rachel seemed the black hole center of the play; making its climax the moment where Rachel watched the mysterious video tape revealing the truth about the Guffins.
But in this production, all the great reckonings of the play happen in such a little room that the more subtle journey of Teri takes over; and Cassidy and Sternberg have found a vitality, though wounded and uncertain, to rival Rachel's. In a seemingly throw away 1st act scene with Al, Teri defines herself as someone bad at grief and so ill-suited for life; by the end of the play, she owns and belongs to both. I hope readers of this blog will make the trek to see her journey in David's thorny and heartfelt play, and I hope this play will see further production. There are very few plays that can take the impossible contradictions of politics and transmute them into the simple loss of a daughter, of a father, of a lover. Sleeper not only viscerally gives us that loss, but finds the difficult way to move from it back into life.