Getting to (W)hole Part 1: The loose thread.

I got a call from Denver Post theatre critic, John Moore, last week about an advance piece on the upcoming production of (W)hole. I answered the call, it’s the press […]

October 19, 2010 // Tracy Shaffer // No Comments //

I got a call from Denver Post theatre critic, John Moore, last week about an advance piece on the upcoming production of (W)hole. I answered the call, it’s the press after all, and was surprised by his first question. “Tracy, this script has been around for a long time, hasn’t it? Why did it take so long to get produced?” I hadn’t thought about it, but he was right. “Well… this script hasn’t been around for years, other versions of it have. The story took some time to find itself” (as most stories do) I answered. Scripts don’t feel autobiographical as I write them; and though a seed of an experience or observation lives within me the characters find their own voices and take over quickly. John’s question put me in a state of reflection on the journey from inception to production, through the decade it took to write, all that transpired and the things that took me to my knees or helped me stand again. I’m looking for the string theory that ties it all together. So how did my experience affect the redemptive story?

The play deals with an artist whose life unravels before our eyes and we watch as she stitches her soul back together, all within 90 minutes of stage time. Things which shatter and transform us take longer in real life; the altering instant happens in the slow-motion speed of a car crash. In 2001 (W)hole was ‘the play I wasn’t writing’. At that time I was an actress, writer, and mother of two young sons, living in a placid central Denver neighborhood. As one of ten playwrights who comprised the Denver Center Theatre’s Playwrights Unit under the guidance of Writer in Residence, Gary Leon Hill, I was focused on another script. We’d only had a few of our bi-monthly Sunday night meetings before the planes hit the towers and their impact changed everything in the world. As America searched its wounded soul and rattled sabers, artists sat, collectively staring in stunned silence at the empty page and the stark white canvas, considering the significance of our creations. It was in this moment that (W)hole was conceived. Relationships seemed to be abruptly spinning 180°, a universal shifting of power everywhere I turned: globally, nationally, locally, internally. It was the season of the great unraveling.

Somewhere, deep within my beloved’s brain a random thread was pulled, a synaptic snag untethered him as he began a slow downward spiral. Whatever had held him together for so many years began to crack, leaking rational thought. Alternating episodes of the manic, the depressive and the paranoid wove themselves into my daily life, based on the pharmaceutical whims of his psychiatrist. I began to line up the proverbial deck chairs in perfect rows, I bailed helplessly against the chaos with a beach pail to keep us all from drowning.

He’d been working on a business venture with a friend, a young Pakistani man whose family had taken exile in Oslo during the 1979 Revolution. In the post 9/11 daze, the man I’d married developed a firm belief that because of this association the FBI was following him, tracking his car and bugging our home as we sat on the couch watching CNN. I would come home from the theatre to find bits of insulation on the floor under the attic access panel where he’d been crawling around searching for cameras and microphones. Maybe it was his way of dealing with our national horror, by disconnecting completely from reality as I was doing with the rigor I applied to my vegetable garden. And I wrote to keep myself sane.

To be continued…


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