Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hysterical Blindness - by Laura Cahill

This premiered in NYC in 1997. It's set in 1987, in Avenel, New Jersey. I'm imagining a town with porches, houses close together, a dingy bar down the road and a Denny's out by the highway. There are six characters - Debby and Beth are the main focus, with Debby's mom Virginia as a counterpoint to their story. It's written in 14 scenes, mostly pretty short, that take place at a bar, Beth's house, Debby's house and one scene at the apartment of the man with Patrick Swayze eyes - Rick.

The play starts in a bar with Debby and her friend Beth drinking beers. Debby is telling Beth about how she went hysterically blind at work. Debby spies Rick at the bar and decides she's pretty much done for - although he seems less that aware of her. Beth needs to get home early to be with her daughter. Debby's sad pursuit of Rick creates the spine of the play. Her mother Virginia, a waitress at Denny's starts up a relationship with a widower who eats breakfast there. While her mother's relationship seems to have something tender and real about it, Debby's is all delusion. Beth sortof likes the bartender, but mostly daydreams of when they were kids, and the father of her daughter who took off long ago. Each woman waits for a man, and seems to be stuck without a man to take them out of their static lives.

Rick is finally egregious enough to get through to Debby that there is no relationship. And Virginia's widower keels over from a heart attack. Debby comes home to find her and her mother's house re-done with nice furniture. Virginia had been saving for something and finally spent some on herself. Though they are both a bit overwhelmed by the nice new home they tentatively settle in and the final scene, where Debby visits Beth and says she's signed up for 'Well Woman' we get the sense that she's making some changes for herself and may be leaving Beth and her daydream of getting some chairs, some beer, some Springsteen and partying in the yard all summer - behind her.

It's a play that relies on the specificity of the Jersey girl, the late '80s, and the low-rent mood pervading the script to take hold to work I imagine. The central metaphor of Debby's actual hysterical blindness - and the hysterical blindness of women waiting for a man to change their life - sets up the play and gives it its throughline.

I've got better access to plays now - any suggestions of published plays I should be reading?

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