It’s been almost a whole month since I’ve posted a Flip the Script Friday, despite having spent the majority of said month researching and writing about theatre. At this year’s ATHE, I did something I usually don’t do, and bought a ton of books from the exhibition hall once they went down to half-price on the last day. Most of them came from Playwrights Canada Press, so get ready to see a lot of Canadian plays hanging out here. Canada has produced some fantastic playwrights and plays, especially in recent years. Also they usually have really pretty cover images. Today’s script is one of them: The Book of Esther, by Leanna Brodie.
The Book of Esther premiered in 2010 at the Blyth Festival in Blyth, Ontario, Canada, and then in 2011 at Festival Players of Prince Edward County in Picton, Ontario. Interestingly, at the Blyth production, the actor who played Seth (Eric Phillips) also directed, and at the Festival Players production, the playwright herself played the role of Anthea.
- Todd Wishart, mid-forties
- Esther Dalzell, fifteen
- Anthea Dalzell, early forties
- A. D., seventeen
- Seth Dalzell, mid-forties
Summer 1981, an apartment (Act I), which shifts into a farmhouse (Act II). Esther, a girl from a farm family, runs away to the big city to get a taste of freedom at the apartment where Todd, a gay rights activist, takes in kids from the street, like A. D. Esther’s religious, evangelical Christian parents Anthea and Seth come looking for her, bringing her back to the farm in Act II, where A. D. and Todd show up, and we begin to see a totally different side of Esther as she’s “back in her element.”
This play had a lot of cool things going for it, some funny lines and great contrasts. I’m not super into Christianity onstage – it would be interesting to see how it would be pulled off. There are a lot of hidden tangles to the story, once you get into it, from Todd/Anthea/Seth’s pre-story relationship to the issue of the farm and the Dalzell family inheritance.
A. D., Ambiguous Dude
I felt really drawn to A. D. Despite having the least amount of backstory and no real relation with the other four characters, he undergoes a really interesting transformation on the farm. He eventually does reveal his real name, but until then, he’s whatever the situation merits, like “Angel of Death.” Even though it’s not really a comedy, he has the funniest lines.
[Act I Scene 6. A. D. and Anthea are in a coffee shop. A. D. is telling Anthea what he and Esther did the night before.]
A.D.: What, aside from the heroin and turning tricks on Jarvis?
Wow, they’re not kidding about you Jesus freaks and your sense of humor.
We consorted at a concert outside City Hall, and dance-ed unto demon rock ‘n roll; we wander-ed down Queen Street and gaze-ed upon graven images; we render-ed unto Pizza Pizza what was due unto Pizza Pizza. Then we watch-ed the sun rise over the lake, and lo, we saw that it was good. Do I get my breakfast now?
Probably the coolest part of the play is its structure. Brodie does a fantastic job of contrasting the various scenes, and patterns begin to form. I wish I knew how to make a table on this site, because that would illustrate it best, but I’ll try it in list form:
- Act I takes place in an apartment with a mosaic of crushed Red Rose Tea figurines; Act II takes place in a farmhouse full of Red Rose Tea figurines.
- In Act I, Esther runs away to the city; in Act II, A. D. runs away to the country.
- In Act I, A. D. jumps into the scene through a window, scaring Esther; in Act II, Esther does the same, scaring A. D. (and even comments “I’ve always wanted to do that”)
- In Act I, A. D. gives Esther a punk-rock makeover; in Act II, we see A. D. in farm clothes.
- In Act I, A. D. introduces Esther to samosas and rice; in Act II, Esther introduces A. D. to potato salad.
- In Act I, Esther and Todd have a father/daughter bond; in Act II, A. D. and Anthea have a strangely quick mother/son bond.
- Act I opens with Anthea teaching Sunday School before going to Todd’s apartment; Act II opens with Todd at a gay rights meeting before going to the Dalzell farmhouse; the final scene shows Esther at a support group/Bible study meeting.
Canadian Learning Curve
I guess that’s how I’d best describe it. Two of the concepts in the play I needed to look up: Red Rose Tea figurines and Century Farms. So here’s the actor-packet portion of the post:
- Red Rose Tea Figurines. Red Rose Tea was founded in 1890 in Saint John’s, New Brunswick, Canada, and was distributed in the USA a few decades later. It seems like they are the “Happy Meals” of tea, issuing trading cards and collectible figurines in each box of teabags. Their website has pictures of the whole collection; they’re really cute and become collector’s items really quickly. Oddly enough, the figurines are now only available on the USA market, not in Canada.
- Century Farms refer to farms which have been held by the same family for at least 100 years. It’s a big thing in Canada, and it varies by state down here in the USA. I’ve never heard of this term before, but according to Wikipedia, Wisconsin alone has 8,000 of them, and 600 of them are sesquicentennial, or 150 years old.
How I’d Flip It
The set and costume designs seem pretty specific here. It would be interesting to see the transition between the cramped apartment and the large farmhouse. I’m having a hard time imagining all the sets-within-sets, like the coffee shop and the subway station. As far as the acting/casting goes, one of my friends would be a perfect Todd. No stark imagery came to my head, but one of the first scenes ends with the phrase “…somebody I used to know.”