Anyone who has experienced loss of a loved one knows the rage and helplessness that can accompany it. Most of us never witness the ravages of a wrongful death, but Deborah Salem Smith's 2012 play Love Alone is the story of a family that does.
This play, which gets its regional premiere this week at PlayMakers Rep, is about a death and the search for accountability or even vengeance that follows. Love Alone, which takes its title from an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem, and its revenge-laden epigraph from The Iliad, is a narrative of a contemporary lesbian couple and their daughter, and what happens when one of the parents dies in a surgery gone wrong.
Bewildered and infuriated by their loss and the difficulty in getting accurate information (let alone an acknowledgement and apology), the family initiates a medical malpractice lawsuit to pay back full measure, as The Iliad has it, "pain for pain, dishonor for dishonor."
"Forgiveness is a choice," said Smith in a phone interview. "For years I wanted to write a play about how people need different things when they're grieving and how forgiveness can be one of them."
Smith is a native of Charlotte, N.C. who is now resident playwright at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I., and a teacher at Brown University. She started out as a poet and visual artist and began seriously writing plays only 10 years ago when she spent a Fulbright year at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. She made the leap to play-writing after mentors told her that the combination of poetry and visual arts was inherently theatrical. On the evidence of the play's script, Love Alone is all of these things. The repeating and dividing and coalescing structure, the rhythms and the linguistic precision—all are deeply poetic. The characters rise up full-bodied and full-voiced from the page, their settings springing up around them, as they wrestle through their unexpected dramatic spiral toward truth, reconciliation and more powerful human connections.
Vivienne Benesch directs this production of Love Alone, which opens this weekend in Paul Green Theater. Benesch, who also directed Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room for PlayMakers in 2011, has a dance background, which she has said helped her find the music in Smith's text. Peter Kendall wrote the play's music, and Lee Savage's stage design does away with the raised stage and puts the actors at audience level.
The cast will feature Julia Gibson, a new company member, who plays the surviving partner, Helen. The cast also includes company members Jenny Wales and Kathryn Hunter-Williams, as well as two MFA students. For longtime local theatergoers, the most exciting aspect of the casting may well be the presence of the widely admired Derrick Ivey, who makes his PlayMakers debut after more than two decades of acting, designing and directing in the area. (Artistic director Joseph Haj says he's been trying to cast Ivey for years.) Ivey plays Mr. Rush, the attorney retained to litigate on behalf of the bereaved family.
Smith learned during her research that the number one reason people sue is the desire for more information.
"I cared about how the threat of medical malpractice affects the flow of information" to the families, Smith said. "I was interested in showing the cost of difference."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Healing together."