From an Interview with Beth Wood, Director of “in a word”

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On what the play is about…

in_a_word_610x908To me, this play is about this mother whose son, Tristan, was kidnapped at 7 years old. Tristan was adopted at 2 years old and is on the Asperger’s spectrum and this woman, Fiona, a school teacher—who always thought of herself as being great with kids and who was always so drawn to be a mother—loved her son so much, but he was—often not the easiest child to parent. He was disengaged, he had behavioral and emotional challenges that were difficult for Fiona to grasp. She’s a perfectionist, she’s this second grade teacher, she feels like she should know how to make the behavior of children sing in the way she wants to, and Tristan was a challenge.

And on the day he was kidnapped, it was a bad day. It was a BAD day—I can only imagine as a parent how often you have those bad days and Fiona was hiding away in a corner, eating a kit-kat at the gas station, because she needed that 30 second break to herself. And I’m not a parent, but goodness I can imagine. I can so readily imagine needing a break from that child and that scares me. So in that moment, that’s when Tristan was kidnapped or disappeared—we don’t know what happened to him but we do know he’s never found. This play takes place 2 years after the disappearance of her son and since that moment, Fiona—it’s like she stopped. She’s stuck in that moment. If you can imagine the guilt that weighs on her, the loss, the not even knowing how to deal with it. One way she deals with it is to seek justice and to seek the answers and often in life, we don’t have the answers and they’re not there to be found. She’s in this frozen place of emotional trauma and over the course of those 2 years, her marriage is disintegrating. She feels alone and isolated and unsupported. She doesn’t feel like she has a network of people to help her process or help hold her up.

This play is kind of, Fiona’s mind. It’s her going through the memories, it’s what she chooses to remember and how she chooses to remember those things versus what really happened. That’s a very real thing when you experience emotional trauma — you morph memories into what you need them to be. The brain is a really powerful organ and sometimes it doesn’t let us experience or remember things the way they really happened because the brain knows we can’t handle it. And so Fiona, as her life has turned into chaos and disorganization, she tries to organize her memories and they’re not real. Or are they? It’s about her being real with herself, ultimately, but it’s about dealing with this trauma. How will she get past that moment, that moment when she goes back to her car and her child is gone? What an extraordinarily difficult moment, it’s easy to imagine getting stuck there and not being able to process and be, what we consider to be, logical. That’s out of the realm of possibilities.

In watching this play, in a word, and in watching rehearsals, I think there’s something everyone can adhere to. Maybe not all of us have had the kind of extraordinary traumatic experience endured by the characters in the play but we’ve all experienced loss or extraordinary stress. It’s asking that question, “How do you deal with it?” Is it healthy to compartmentalize it and deal with it later — deal with it in pieces? Or do you just need to embrace the whole laundry basket of sh**? To get through? So that’s what this play is. It’s about our brain, in a lot of ways, and how our brain lets us function and protects us, but also pushes us.

This play has really beautiful language, it’s poetic and there’s word play. One of the lines that sticks out to me, one of my favorites is— Fiona meets this man in the grocery store and believes he’s the kidnapper. He gives her a cantaloupe which he’s touched, so she takes the cantaloupe to the detective that’s working her son’s disappearance case. The detective is cutting up the cantaloupe and eating the cantaloupe onstage and the detective says, “Can’t escape?” and Fiona says, “What?” and he says, “Cantaloupe. Want a piece?” There are moments when in a word plays with language and what we might hear versus the meaning behind words or how sometimes we hear the things we want to hear or we’re unable to understand things the way they’re said. When a trauma happens, we don’t always hear things the way they’re meant—sometimes we perceive meaning where there is none. When you’re stuck in a place and you’ve built walls up around yourself to protect you—your fragility—your perception, this world that you’ve created for yourself, this “new normal” so-to-speak is going to really affect how you hear things and how you interact with others.

On working with a playwright on a new work…

lauren-headshot-3-e1282900816387It’s an asset to have the playwright (Lauren Yee) involved in the production. What a great experience to get to watch and support the playwright as she continues to clarify her vision of the play and these characters and their journey. As a production team here at CPT, we can read the script one way and that tells the playwright a lot. And maybe how we read it, is not her intention and so it’s this opportunity for the playwright to go back and clarify little things.

We’ve gotten three new drafts since we started a week ago and most of them were clarifying changes but some big things have really adjusted, like—I don’t want to give anything away (laughing). It’s this great challenge when you’ve been walking down a path and then you get new information from a playwright and that can either pave that path for you and you’re like, “Yeah! I’m going down the right path!” or it makes you stop, and come to a fork in the road, and think about which way is the better way to go. It raises really good, healthy questions and makes you continue to question the play and never feel really settled in the decisions and artistry that you’re pursuing. And I think that’s a good thing—to keep everyone on their toes, always exploring and always asking new questions and really embracing that. It’s a delight to get in on the ground floor with a play that I’ve loved since I read an early, early version of 2 years ago. To see how it’s changed since then is really inspiring and is teaching me a lot about new play development and how a story can remain intact but all of the different flavors can change. Maybe you’re just adding new spices or you’re taking some spices out of the dish that weren’t adding to the perfect bite. That’s kind of a nice metaphor—the culinary art form. You experiment with things until you find that perfect bite.

When you’re working with new work or new-er work, contemporary work— as a director, I personally feel freedom to experiment with how to tell the story and I feel, it ignites my creativity. New work ignites me because I don’t feel constrained by conventional story-telling methods and I feel a little more freedom to play with the setting and play with the rhythm of the piece and dig it. I feel like an explorer. For me, I’d rather see something that I’ve never seen before or read something that is so unique and so fresh, because someone else’s uniqueness then inspires and lights a fire in my creativity. New work inspires the movies that play in my head. That’s a phrase I use a lot as a director, “what are the movies that are playing in my head that are telling me how to ask actors to move around the stage and interact with the environment or tell the story”. I just have these little 30 second movies that will pop into my imagination and I try to embrace those.

Beth Wood

After appearing on the CPT stage since 2002, Beth Wood joined the CPT staff in 2007. An actress, educator, director, administrator and theatre technician, she holds a BA in Communications and Theatre from John Carroll University. A former Actor-Teacher for Great Lakes Theater, Beth has taught a variety of theatre and acting courses throughout Northeast Ohio, and has served as the technical director for John Carroll University, Lakeland Theatre and Stagecrafters. CPT acting credits include Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Mrs. Bob Cratchet’s Wild Christmas Binge, A Bright Room Called Day, Fefu and Her Friends, The Rocky Horror Show, Our Town, Pulp, Matt & Ben, Anna Bella Eema (co-production with Theater Ninjas), Open Mind Firmament, Don’t Call Me Fat, Akarui, Standing on Ceremony, Earth Plays and The Loush Sisters DO the Nutcracker. As a director of adventurous scripted work, Beth’s CPT directing credits include BOOM by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (third U.S. production), Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them by Christopher Durang (second U.S. production), FEVER/DREAM by Sheila Callaghan, The SantaLand Diaries by David Sedaris at PlayhouseSquare, Antebellum by Robert O’Hara (second U.S. production), There Is a Happiness That Morning Is by Mickle Maher, and The Loush Sisters DO the Nutcracker. In addition to her work with scripted productions, Beth co-created The Loush Sisters for PlayhouseSquare in 2011 and CPT in 2013.