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Goat Brain

Theatre thoughts from theatre makers.

What we talk about when we talk about plays

Shannon Flaherty

Foreign5.jpg

January 8, 2018
by Chris Kaminstein

As I went-a-visiting over the holidays and sat with family drinking and eating many things, I found myself struggling to tell them about the show that I’m currently working on, Foreign to Myself.  In general, I have a hard time talking about my work with Goat in the Road in a coherent way; describing a show to someone who hasn’t seen it always feels a little silly, like describing that crazy dream where your hat turned into your sister but was also Regis Philbin but also your sister. 

The truth is it’s difficult to distill 2-plus years of work into a few scrappy sentences.  And it’s especially hard to make it sound entertaining, when the theme of the show is ‘War, homecoming, and the divide between civilian experience and Military service.’  Have your eyes glazed over yet? 

Sometimes I say, ‘Foreign to Myself is about war and homecoming, but don’t worry, it’s funny.’  But that’s not right.  It’s not a ‘funny’ show.  It has funny moments.  And disturbing moments.  And some ‘edge of your seat’ moments.  But to say it’s ‘funny’ is definitely misleading.  Yet I find myself saying it, if only as a way to secretly apologize for making a play about something so unrelentingly depressing.  If I was European, or better yet, Russian, I would just say:  “This play is about the suffering of human beings—and you must see it.” (Imagine that last sentence in a Russian accent.)

But here we are in America, and I won’t generalize about America, but generally American audiences want to be fooled into watching something serious.  Hell, I want to be fooled into watching something serious.  If the first scene of a play is too serious, half my brain immediately starts thinking about where my wife and I should eat after the show.  Waffle House?  Will my wife go for Waffle House?  Definitely not.  But damn I would love to go to Waffle House after this show.

It’s hard for theater people to talk about the work they do.  Whatever we say the show is ‘about’ is not really what the show is about.  Sure, Hamlet is a play about a prince who is grieving his dead father.  And Death of a Salesman is about a man who loses his job.  And A Raisin in the Sun is about a family who decides to move.  I mean, none of these shows are about what they’re about.  The words are inadequate.  What are these plays about?  Life, man.  Life.  

These last two years of making Foreign to Myself have changed my life.  They have changed my view of our country.  They have changed my understanding of what it means to ‘serve’ and given me a deeper understanding of the pride that Veterans take in being of ‘service’.  At an art opening a few years back I was talking with a former Marine, and generally amazing human, who was lamenting the fact that military service is increasingly far from most civilian experience.  He was disturbed that, because America has an all-volunteer army, it’s too easy for us to forget about the human cost of our wars.  I asked this Marine if he thought the draft should be reinstituted, and he told me no—but, he said, “Everyone should have to do something; serve the country in some capacity.  That way we all have service in common.” 

Foreign to Myself is a reflection on service, and it’s a sad happy fun upsetting demanding entertaining look at one female Marine as she comes back home.  And it’s also about all of us, and the way that going away means that you come back changed, and that this change is not the change of one person only, but the change of our community too. 

Come be part of our community for a night.  We are proud to be offering this show Free of Charge at U.N.O. Nims Theater (2000 Lakeshore Dr.) the weekends of January 12th- 14th and 19th – 21st. 

Reserve your tickets here.