Read Three 1-Act Plays Reviews

River Walk Journal, Vol. 2, Issue 6
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ross

“Anselmo continues to show his skill…”

Three 1-Act Plays, the second volume from Tom Anselmo, complements the first, in that it continues the exploration of vulnerabilities in characters. Anselmo continues to show his skill in uncovering the deeper issues of interpersonal relations in this trilogy.

In ‘Matt & Sara’, readers find the mysterious Matt grabbing the attention of three female guests at a resort, ironically by remaining silent. Sara, one of the three, first assumes that Matt has some sort of condition, and later realizes that she has one of her own – one that leaves her on common ground with the silent Matt.

Hearing different sides of an argument in one’s head may well be a sign of insanity, but in ‘The Voices’, it aptly illustrates the complicated internal debates we engage in daily just to make it through difficult interactions with others. Cathy struggles with how much to say – or not say – to her friend Ellie, after she sees Ellie’s new beau with another woman. Cathy’s inner voices are boisterous throughout.

‘Penny’ gives readers the return of Gail, of Gail’s Place, with Penny as her sister-in-law. Gail cuts through most of the arguments offered in defense of her brother Robby, whose gambling has given his wife Penny the unenviable task of asking family for loans to bail him out.

Anselmo offers readers some important issues to consider, and creative means to do so. Three 1-Act Plays is a page-turner, and will also fit well in the classroom for theatre, psychology, and women’s studies.

Roundtable Reviews, http://www.roundtablereviews.com
Reviewed by Wendall Sexton

“Now if I can only see it performed on the stage.”

Three 1-Act Plays: ‘Matt & Sara’, ‘The Voices’, ‘Penny’, written by Tom Anselmo, are three separate forays into the realm of the personal watershed event. These are moments granted, opportunities allowed people to stretch beyond – at times painfully beyond – their own perceived limitations and perceived view of things.

In ‘Matt & Sara’, two people – Matt & Sara – find themselves drawn together at a resort, though it becomes a task to actually meet since Matt does not talk (he is embarrassed over the fact that he is a stutterer) and Sara, perhaps a bit more demure than she needs to be, is embarrassed by the ostentatious flirting of her Aunt Flora and her younger sister Anne.

With ‘The Voices’, Cathy is faced with the burden of knowing something damaging about Ellie’s new boyfriend Steve – someone she and her husband Marty have come to like – and battles the contrasting voices inside herself that tell her she should tell Ellie what she knows or she should keep quiet, minding her own business.

The last play of the three, ‘Penny’, centers around a visit Penny and her daughter Sara make to Gail and Ron. Gail is the sister to Penny’s husband Robby. While the visit is, on the surface, merely a family trip; underneath all the pretense, Penny is there to ask Gail and Ron to cosign on a loan that will get Robby out of the debt problem threatening his life. Gail, knowing all about her brother’s gambling problems, is tired of bailing him out of trouble, and now wonders how far one has to go in their responsibility they owe to their family.

Three 1-Act Plays by Tom Anselmo is a trilogy of three plays with solid plots, worthy themes, and good characters. Anselmo addresses issues all people face, which interested me, as they pulled me through the pages to learn just how they dealt with the same problems I knew. When a story is one a reader can relate to – and there will be a large segment of the populace that can relate to what is faced here – you have landed something special. Now if I can only see it performed on the stage.

Book Pleasures, http://www.bookpleasures.com
Reviewed by Ernest Dempsey

“Anselmo’s plays renovate the tradition of serious drama”

The second volume of Tom Anselmo plays Three 1-Act Plays (Red Brindle Press, New York, 2006, 1st edition) is not a series like the first one Gail’s Place by virtue of the same protagonist and unity of place, but by the common motif resolution of self’s internal conflicts. As Anselmo puts it in his preface to the plays ‘I write about people who are on the verge of self-discovery’, the book causes the conflicts in an individual’s mind peep through the voice of the leading characters. As the person in the story discovers his or her own suppressed urges, values of familial love, commitment, and obligation undergo critical scanning.

The plays begin with ‘Matt and Sara’, set in a resort, in which the protagonists consciously deny themselves aspects of their personalities that society might find obnoxious. Matt gives up speaking in company to evade any awkwardness on account of his stuttering. Sara is a self-restrainer, ashamed of her aunt’s showy manners practiced for winning men’s affection. Their need and struggle for self-acceptance bring them together on common grounds. The theme of the play symbolically comes out to be the victory of human understanding over flirtatious ostentation in any meaningful relationship.

Getting deeper to the core of the conflict is ‘The Voices’, a play in which two different impulses of Cathy, the heroine, are personified characters. The issue at hand is Cathy’s suspicion of Steve in regard to his sincerity to Ellie, Cathy’s friend and Steve’s girlfriend. Cathy has seen Steve with another young woman in way that makes her inner voices contend for keeping or revealing the incident to Ellie. The first voice presses on retaining the secret for the sake of intimacy while the second one is resolved on squaring things at the surface for the sake of making relationships better. Anselmo presented the conflict in Gail’s Place. Only this time both impulses are vis-à-vis, sweeping dust off the true nature of social reality: is social reality there as matter of course, or is it created when one impulse gets over the others to seize the self? The author leaves the question open to the audience, to be taken up by their own inner voices.

Summing up the argument between the inner voices in the third play ‘Penny’ is again Gail Stanza, heroine of Anselmo’s trilogy of 2-act plays Gail’s Place. Eponymous Penny is Gail’s sister in law who has continued pampering her husband Robby despite his repeated indulgence in gambling. As Penny asks Gail for help with their debt, Gail reacts crossly to Penny’s blind devotion to her husband in the name of love. The dialogue between Gail, Ron, and Penny brings out the issue of familial obligation versus common sense. The underlying question is whether sympathy should be furthered or checked when one’s peace of mind is knuckling under it.

Anselmo’s plays renovate the tradition of serious drama by invoking a debate over the limitations of social norms and individual obligation to follow them. The scope of his discussion is multifold, pertinent to matters of family, sense, obligation, spontaneity of one’s self, and discovery of new ways of existing against the modus vivendi.

Anselmo’s Three 1-Act Plays is the thoughtful mind’s donut.

Curled Up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com
Reviewed by Luan Gaines

“With an acute awareness of the most ordinary circumstances, Anselmo’s characters struggle to rise above their inadequacies, embracing uncomfortable truths with the courage required.”

Emotional vulnerability triggers an immediate self-protective response, the natural instinct to withdraw from imminent confrontation. Playwright Tom Anselmo tackles this dilemma in a trio of plays – ‘Matt & Sara,’ ‘The Voices,’ and ‘Penny’ – each revealing another face of such exposure and the character’s individual reactions to changing circumstances.

Each play focuses on a confrontation and its resolution, either addressing a conflict or achieving a comfort level that is less threatening for the character. “In ‘Matt & Sara,’ a handsome young man deals with his stuttering “condition” by means of behavior modification, believing his method will lead to healing, or at least a diminishing of his symptoms.

In the course of his visit to a resort, Matt meets Sara with her sister and aunt, identifying qualities in Sara that infer a sympathetic heart. Although they have a few awkward moments, the two overcome their initial trepidation, moving forward in the relationship.

Cathy, a young married woman, is the focus of ‘The Voices.’ Cathy has guilty knowledge of her best friend’s current lover, unsure whether to tell the friend her suspicions and possibly endanger the friendship. After a short conversation, Cathy realizes her friend is consciously choosing to ignore the obvious, clinging to foolish romantic notions. The ensuing test of Cathy’s marriage trumps the value of the women’s friendship, redefining the parameters of both.

‘Penny’ is by far the most satisfying of the three plays. The wife of a gambler, Penny is visiting her sister-in-law, Gail, in hopes of borrowing money to cover her husband’s debts. Long aware of her brother’s gambling addiction, Gail is not receptive to Penny’s pleas, confronting Penny with the ugly truths she has chosen to avoid, her co-conspiracy in her husband’s gambling problem and the denial of the situation.

Penny is far from prepared to break the cycle of addiction, but Gail is refreshingly candid, unflinching in the face of discomfort: “I’m having trouble holding back what I want to say; you’re having trouble putting a muzzle over my mouth.”

With an acute awareness of the complexities of the most ordinary occurrences, Anselmo’s characters struggle to rise above their inadequacies, embracing uncomfortable truths with the courage required.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2006

Read Gail’s Place Reviews

River Walk Journal, Vol. 2, Issue 6
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ross

“An engrossing group of plays…”

In Gail’s Place, Tom Anselmo has given readers an intriguing way to explore moral ambiguity in relationships. Beginning in the first play, loyalty to friends and family stands in direct contradiction with the greater good.

Gail is a well meaning, sometimes overbearing school counselor who has a reputation with her family and friends for giving her ten cents worth of advice – even when no one asked. Through these three plays, readers are shown Gail’s growth and increased understanding about moral dilemmas so often avoided for the sake of political correctness in today’s world.

Gail’s husband Ron is less outgoing, albeit a decent man. We follow his journey to the inevitable crossroads where speaking out on moral dilemmas regardless of the social consequences is right. His road is a bit longer than Gail’s, but is satisfying. His deep-seated decency serves as an excellent starting point.

From domestic violence to workplace sexual harassment, Anselmo jumps in feet first, examining the fallacy of political correctness in the handling of these issues. The double-edged sword that on one side condemns these behaviors, and on the other, encourages friends and family of offenders to avoid the subject is scathingly illustrated in these three plays.

While readers who are familiar with the theatrical trade may become a little mired in considering the logistics of staging these plays, their message is strong enough to keep the pages turning – rapidly. Gail’s Place is an engrossing group of plays that, beyond the audience of general readers, would be useful to instructors and students of theatre, psychology and women’s studies.

Roundtable Reviews, http://www.roundtablereviews.com
Reviewed by Wendall Sexton

“fascinating… the secrets we keep, alongside the social responsibility we share is delivered with readable aplomb.”

A trilogy of two-act plays can appear an unappealing prospect for any reading enjoyment, but with Tom Anselmo’s Gail’s Place, a fascinating gaze into the realm of the secrets we keep, alongside the social responsibility we share, is delivered with readable aplomb.

Each of the three plays, while easily standing on their own, are also chronologically connected. What transpires in ‘Secret Burdens’ rolls over into ‘Clues’; and what happens in ‘Clues’ has an immediate baring upon the resolutions Gail and Ron come to in ‘The Place”.

Everything begins in ‘Secret Burdens’ with the planning of a 25th anniversary party by Gail and her husband Ron for their friends Ted and Lily. Included in the invitations are Lily’s sister Margaret, Ted’s brother Tony, Ted’s coworker Mark, and Mark’s new girlfriend Evelyn. The problem everyone faces is Mark. He is the unknown factor, as he has requested that everyone keep the relationship he had with Margaret, secret from Evelyn.

However, as the party unfolds and conversation takes place, the secret of Mark’s relationship with Margaret reveals itself as more than simply two people who broke up two years ago. While everyone maintains the integrity of the secret, Mark is still shown as one who drinks a bit too much, is prone to irrational outbursts, which lends itself to physical abuse in his relationships.

Should Gail inform Evelyn of this, or should she maintain the civility of the party (in deference to Ted and Lily), hoping Evelyn will grasp the reality of Mark’s volatile nature before it’s too late?

What would you do?

Such stands the theme of ‘Secret Burdens’. It flows over into ‘Clues’ when Evelyn is discovered in her apartment, the victim of an apparent accident that has left her in a coma.

Or was it an accident? Police detectives investigate. They talk to Gail and Ron, Ted and Lily. There is suspicion that Mark is involved, making what happened to Evelyn not much of an accident at all, and raising the bar of responsibility back onto Gail’s shoulders.

If she had alerted Evelyn to Mark’s abusive past when they met at the party, would Evelyn be safe today? Or would such warning have fallen on deaf ears? Evelyn herself, in an exchange with the others that evening, commented on how she saw no advantage in knowing of someone’s past. It is the person in the present that you love.

Such questions as to social responsibility run over into the third play, ‘The Place’, where Gail’s husband Ron is faced with a similar scenario of keeping a secret to maintain social order or letting the truth be told for the good of everyone involved.

Ron’s friend and fellow college instructor Carl has just been promoted. He and Gail are again throwing a party in celebration. However, Carl has also been accused by a student of sexual harassment. What is the truth? And what will Ron do in response to that truth? What did he learn from the episode with Mark and Evelyn?

Initially, all appears a ploy by the student to enact retaliation against Carl, her instructor, for a poor grade. When Ron begins considering the issue further, he isn’t so certain. Are the insinuations against Carl true or not? More importantly, how will Ron respond to Carl if they are?

Normally, morality plays come across as preachy, never considering fully all sides of the issue addressed. Here with Gail’s Place, such is not the case. Tom Anselmo impressively gives all his characters their own voice, allowing them a turn to voice their opinions.

The issue of whether or not to fully disclose everything when entering into a relationship, I found myself vacillating a bit on that one. I have always believed in complete honesty and communication in a relationship; but the idea of living in the moment of who the person is now, it also has merit.

So Anselmo fully presents both sides, making Gail’s Place decidedly not preachy, as well as not overtly dramatic. There is no overacting. This is merely the interactions of a group of friends, the troubles they face, and how they can, or cannot, resolve them.

Book Pleasures, http://www.bookpleasures.com
Reviewed by Ernst Dempsey

“…place Anselmo’s book among lovable reads.”

Thomas Hardy didactically preserved his Tess, a young woman who attempted to be honest in her intimate relationship by revealing her secret, and thus ended at the gallows. Tom Anselmo takes care to let his Gail clinch a footing in both her inner and social worlds as she unveils the mask of falsity in relationships. Anselmo’s first volume of plays is a trilogy of two-act plays by the title Gail’s Place (Red Brindle Press, New York, 2006, 1st printing). While each plays stands on its own plot, central to all is Gail Stanza’s character, a woman who is bent on reconciling her inner self with that of her social role by cracking secrets that tend to stifle one’s individuality and true identity.

The opening play ‘Secret Burdens’ centers Gail Stanza at the heart of their party in the honor of their friends’ marriage anniversary. While Lily attributes her marriage’s success to care in keeping secrets from the spouse, as do Mark and Evelyn, Gail is disposed nearly in excess to resurrect past grievances so as to ensure calm in the future. Gail’s character has no hint of sullenness about her and so the audience is likely to appreciate her assertiveness as the moral implications of it unfold.

‘Clues’ starts as a detective drama with Evelyn Harper lying in coma in the hospital. Gail’s speculations about Mark are turning into reality and the question of responsibility arises from the depth of Gail’s character. We meet Gail’s inner self, personified, and conversing with Gail over shutting down of vital human sensibilities. Gail’s self-conscious speech makes her a lovable character: ‘I have the distinguished honor of being a big-mouth.’ And her pride in her truthfulness is an impetus to secretive sufferers like Margaret: ‘I’m glad I don’t have the kind of ties that turn us into moral pretzels.’ As Gail scatters the shards of hypocrisy for good, Lily sees her own inner self, clad in a shroud, rising and walking. Anselmo’s genius shows, not tells, how to connect with your being’s center.

The third play ‘The Place’ moves the argument closer into Gail’s home as her husband Ron finds himself at odds with his inner self against his colleague’s promotion grounded on Ron’s support. Carl is suspected of sexual harassment of one of his students. Again it is Gail who goads her husband to act in harmony with his inner voice. Gail’s personified, abstract, self finds a mate in form of Ron’s resurrected center. Alongside we see the false consciousness of Lynn, Carl’s wife, who accepts compromise as matter of course.

Anselmo has fixed the familiar signboard of serious drama in the history of modern literature. With no foul language, no hip-hop mania, conscientious protagonists, and character-driven situations, Anselmo’s plays speak the truth about the nature of secrets, their implications, and behavioral significance.

The serious subject matter and ease of writing style place Anselmo’s book among lovable reads.

Curled Up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com
Reviewed by Luan Gaines

One character is central to all three plays in Gail’s Place (‘Secret Burdens,’ ‘Clues,’ and ‘The Place’), that rare woman who is unable to sustain any form of artifice when dealing with other people, secrecy anathema to her nature. All of the other characters react to Gail’s unflinching honesty in one way or another; some finding it refreshing, others intimidating.

Gail remains the catalyst for the unfolding dramas in all three plays, particularly “the implications of keeping (or not keeping) secrets.” In the first play, the others defer to the wishes of one character, a single man, when he requests that they all remain silent about his prior relationship with one of the guests at an anniversary party hosted by Gail and her husband, discomfited by her outspokenness.

At the anniversary party (‘Secret Burdens’), the guests respect the man’s desire for keeping his former affair secret from his date, but complications arise as the dinner progresses, especially when the alcohol consumption releases the party-goers inhibitions. Unfortunately, the truth comes out.

Although the guests’ reactions vary, it is clear that it is all but impossible for a large group to keep information of this nature to themselves, allowing for personality differences and personal agendas. The result is an awkward situation for everyone and embarrassment for the young woman who did not know of her date’s history.

‘Clues’ is a more complex rendering of a friendship between Gail and her best friend, Lily, as the women are forced to confront their duplicity at the party and the possible consequences for the man’s date, Evelyn. It seems that Evelyn was found unconscious on her living room floor, and the friends debate the man’s possible involvement, given his past history of domestic violence.

Gail and Lily’s contretemps is directly related to their silence at the party and afterwards, when one of them might have said something to Evelyn: “Everyone’s looking the other way to maintain the lie… all to cushion the effect of the truth.” When Evelyn, dies, two detectives attempt to put together what information they can glean from the people at the party.

In the final play, the focus shifts from Gail and her friends to her communication with her husband, Ron, and how the intimacy of their marriage is affected by their decisions to ignore the integrity of their position vis-à-vis others. The element of secrecy predominates throughout, Gail’s tenacity finally rewarded by her husband’s courage as they reach a “place” where both are validated as individuals and as a couple.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2006

Read why I wrote my plays:

For many years, with family members and friends, I accepted a dynamic that seemed natural to me. I would be careful not to cross the others’ boundaries of intimacy; I kept certain areas off limits believing some secrets were necessary to maintain each relationship. But as I grew older, I increasingly felt that this divide was not natural. Being disconnected — to whatever degree — left me feeling inauthentic.

I told a few close friends that they knew me better than I knew them. I wanted more from them; I wanted more for myself. I wanted to feel the pulse of their internal life, to be moved by the stories that shaped their experience of the world. I wanted to be there for their moments of insight. I needed that experience to get under (I don’t know any other way to put it) my friends’ social selves – as well as mine.

Those “selves” would prove more intractable than I first realized. When I’d try to get beyond the banter and updating of “What’s happening?”, the reaction was most often a palpable glaze over the eyes or an off-hand interruption: “Did you see the movie…?”. One discomforted friend explicitly stopped a conversation by saying: “I don’t talk about family with friends.”

Why not? An aching desire to understand my friends’ reactions persisted. But I had to be careful: Wasn’t their need to keep some distance between us as valid as my need to be more intimate? Out of respect for their often tacit desire, I chose not to push for more.

But I kept imagining what would happen if social interactions weren’t so limited. If friends revealed themselves more fully, might we begin to understand each other – and our own selves better? These musings were the impetus for my trying to express my dilemma in a literary mode.

Volume 1: Gail’s Place

Secret Burdens’

I would imagine an extension of the social life I knew – in a play! I’d create a situation that would require deliberate efforts to be secretive, and a main character who has a visceral response against secrecy and is probably more forthright than anyone we know. The first draft of Act 1, Secret Burdens emerged: I discovered in the process of writing, Gail was developing her own voice, not merely the author’s. In keeping up with her, I often felt as if I were transcribing scenes rather than creating them. I wondered would my protagonist be able to be authentic without alienating everyone around her, including her husband?

‘Clues’ and ‘The Place’

By the end of this first play, Gail has come to a greater understanding of how holding back secrets affects her relationships. I thought I had dramatically exhausted what I had to say about Gail and the play’s theme. But readers of this play were curious about the lives of the other characters and their on-going relationships to Gail. Hence, the stories continued. In the sequels of the Trilogy (to my own surprise!), Gail begins a dialogue with an inner voice, embodied on stage. She learns that authenticity is reached not only by breaking through the barriers of secrecy with an intimate, but also in uncovering one’s own secrets. Insight not only arises out of interactions with others, but also from self-dialogue.

Volume 2: Three 1-Act Plays:

‘Matt & Sara’

I am a former stutterer; more accurately, I no longer exhibit obvious stuttering symptoms. For years after achieving what is called “fluency”, I avoided certain speaking situations that I felt could possibly trigger my old symptoms. Throughout my professional career, I tried avoiding formal speaking engagements. When I was obliged to, I was a wreck: on the human Richter scale, 6+. I may not have stuttered at the podium, but my natural voice and demeanor were affected by the quakes of anticipation before the event – the same kind of anticipation that had plagued my school years, especially in junior high and high school when I would stutter in formal recitations.

I have tried to explain to those closest to me how I overcame the stuttering symptoms. I never participated in any speech therapy program. I entered psychoanalytic therapy when I was teaching junior high school, concerned I might be shortchanging my students by not reading aloud as often as I should. But delving into all corners of my life for the underlying causes of the stuttering left me frustrated: my anxiety about stuttering was diminishing, but at no greater rate than before I started therapy.

Over decades my dread of stuttering kept diminishing, so much so that during a Composition 101 class I was teaching on the college level, I read a student paper aloud, well-modulated and well intoned, without an internal flutter before or during the reading. I told my wife later that day: “I am no longer a stutterer”. I was 53 years old.

In Matt & Sara, I wanted to draw attention to the trauma faced by stutterers: “Matt” follows a similar course to my self-therapeutic process towards recovery; his friend “Kevin” strives not for a cure, but for “stuttering fluency”.

These were the broad issues I wanted to tackle, but any play must be more than a treatise on a subject. Matt and Kevin have the complexities of individuals, each with a real voice, expressing a real passion. And all of my plays are concerned with personal moral development. The main focus of the play centers on whether Matt and Sara can work through their sense of humiliation to reach out to each other.

‘Penny’

Friends had always encouraged me to write about my family, my having entertained others with humorous poignant tales on many an evening. I wanted to write about my mother and why she tolerated my father’s addictive gambling for so many years. That addiction was the bane of my childhood experience. My mother was an enigma to me.

While she was basically kind and good-natured, I always felt resentment towards her. As I grew older and would tell others about her, this resentment grew. I became fixated on a recurring episode in childhood, every Friday at the end of the day, usually before dinnertime. My mother (Kay) worked at a factory supporting my father (Lefty) and me. (Lefty couldn’t work at a full-time job because he had to be at the track by 1 P.M.) My mother would be paid on Fridays. When she got home, if Lefty wasn’t there yet, she would sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and lay her pay envelope, with dollar bills and the usual number of coins, in front of her. The envelope, buff-colored, was about four inches long and about two and half inches wide, with a flap – not sealed. Its features would be forever etched in my memory. At age thirteen and fourteen, I would look forward to the weekend when I might play stickball and go to the movies with my friends. At that time, a Spalding rubber ball (the pink-colored kind) cost 10 cents and the movie 15 cents. The movie, with two feature films, a couple of serial shorts, a couple of Loony Tunes and the news highlights would run between four and five hours. What a blast! Would I be a happy camper!

Back at the kitchen table, I asked: “Mom, could I have a quarter?”. I told her how I would spend it. She squinched her face and shook her head. Believing I knew her reason for refusing, I’d add: “Dad wouldn’t know.” Again, the same response and I’d complain, “Dad’s going to gamble it all away anyway.” Nothing I could say would move her. After several repeated Friday scenes like this one, I stopped asking. Why couldn’t Kay do what a kind mother would do? Did she not feel the responsibility of a parent?

These were the nagging questions that haunted me whenever I opened the door to that memory. In the Preface to Gail’s Place, I wrote “Gail increasingly harkens to an inner voice, a voice that urges her to retrieve difficult – and even painful – past experiences.” Now it was the author’s turn.

I dove into my pool of resentment with no stopping the free fall. Beyond my anger, the startling truth that emerged with full force was I truly did not like my mother. “Honor thy mother”…No way! But there is more… Just as I was getting used to an unpleasant insight, I found myself rising to the rim of the other side of the pool, the beads of resentment dripping off. I was quiet and calm. In that repose, two memories of Kay presented themselves to me – unbidden.

She told two stories several times over the years, each time with utter delight. She and Lefty, a young married couple with a baby boy, went to see the Olivier/Oberon version of Wuthering Heights. Together, they were enthralled over the life-long vows Cathy and Heathcliff made to each other on the moors. Circumstances separated them for many years, but in the end, with Heathcliff holding a dying Cathy on a veranda overlooking the moors, they recaptured the moment of their teenage oath to each other. Kay said that she and Lefty wept together (Lefty confirmed this in a later retelling). I had never seen Kay and Lefty hand-in-hand, but I imagine that coming out of the movie house, their hands were clasped. Oh, the magical air of those moors!

Kay’s second story recounted a scene in her childhood. Every Friday, she would sit at the dinner table with her six brothers and sisters. Her father, having just cleaned himself of coal dust from working in the mines of Pittston, Pa, sat at the head of the table and would take a pay envelope filled with cash he had earned for the week from his pocket. He then would slide the unopened envelope to his favorite and say, “Katerina”. With his permission, Kay (the third oldest), would open the envelope and dole out allowances to her brothers and sisters. Her mother, sitting at the other end of the table, would look on disapprovingly. Her brother Joe, the eldest child, never spoke about these scenes, but I believe harbored deep resentment towards Kay well into adulthood.

These were two truly powerful experiences – stories that Kay would retell to buttress her self-worth. (I could have been happy for her if my self-worth had not been eroded.) There she sat reenacting the exalting memories. She was Cathy to her Heathcliff and she was, as best as I can understand it, her father to her favorite child, her boy/husband. Impassive to anything or anyone outside the cocoon of her well-being, she needed to remain loyal to Lefty and her father. That loyalty was tested every Friday night: to push back the flap of the pay envelope and dip into it would be a betrayal of the two men in her life. Out of the temporal interface between the present moment and the decades-old past, a new and significant insight crystallized: I no longer saw Kay as the mother who wouldn’t, but rather the woman who couldn’t. I was ready to write about a gambler’s wife, but “Penny” is not a clone of Kay. With my fictional character, there would be the possibility for change. This would be the dramatic thrust of this one-act play.

‘The Voices’

The backdrop to this play follows my internal process – after having written Penny.

When I was in my late 30’s, Kay’s Heathcliff broke his vows and left her. Bereft, she would ask me, “Wasn’t I a good mother?” Ooh, the door to the truth was ajar. Should I swing it wide open?…But I felt shaky. It’s as if I were driven by two currents: a maelstrom to be honest, to answer her literal question or to respond to her need for stroking at this low point in her life. I was half annoyed at myself for feeling her pain – after all, it was an empathy she lacked as a young mother. Nevertheless, I relented: “Yes, you were a good mother.”

In the second and third plays of the Trilogy, I had somewhat dramatized this ambivalence.

Gail’s inner voice, embodied on stage, pushes for greater honesty, but is also mindful of others defending against openness. I wanted to return to this theme and explore the multi-sided nature of this inner voice. Even before getting down to writing the play, I heard my voices sparring and speaking:

Voice One: You ask too much!

Voice Two: You don’t ask enough!

I had great anticipation in setting the stage for their entrance.