Friday, October 16, 2009

Two Performances: Canyon Sam’s Sky Train and SF Free Civic Theater’s Reckless

During a rare week Liz and I failed to have new poems for one another, we kept our writing night date by sneaking off to Copperfields Bookstore to hear Canyon Sam, author of Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History. Sam spoke of the book’s 19 ½ year timeline and resultant winnowing down of more than two dozen original interviews with Tibetan women to the final four she included. I left Sam’s reading with an entirely new awareness of the struggle to free Tibet, and as Sam put it, how the face of the struggle shifted for her once she learned from one interviewee that no contingency plan existed for women to travel to safety with spiritual leaders (thus forcing husbands to choose between their wives and the heavy karmic debt incurred should they fail to protect their Rinpoche). The side effect of such a belief system left women, children and the elderly to suffer the brunt of the invasion and twenty or more years in labor camps. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter and the continued gravity of the situation facing the women of Tibet, Sam drew laughs from the audience with a passage describing 9th century monastery plumbing.

Reckless, written by Craig Lucas (performed by the San Francisco Free Civic Theatre this month), explores the psychological challenges that befall an American wife when her husband takes out a contract out on her life. I attended the October 11th matinee performance at the Randall Museum, and thought the play might also be titled Relentless for the onslaught of events befalling the lead (Rachel) in 28 cinematic scenes. Each scene ends with a twist, forcing the audience to face some uncomfortable emotions as the playwright looks at the lies that allow people to love themselves and others (I heard both hearty and hesitant laughs, but overall a quiet intensity emanating from the audience).

Lead actress Sarah Doherty, speaking about Rachel’s character flaws, mused: Throughout the rehearsal process we’ve all considered Rachel’s incessant talking as her main character weakness, as it gets her into trouble and strains her relationships with her spouse, her friends, her coworkers. An even bigger character weakness in Rachel is the lack of initiative to take care of herself or to critically think about situations she is put in. She is passed from caregiver to caregiver, father to husband, and is never given the chance to grow up, learn to fend for herself, or know what it means to be alone. It never occurs to her that she lacks those life and social skills. When given the chance to flee her own impending death, it is the very husband who wanted her dead who has to shove her out of their bedroom window in order to remain safe. Having a notion of personal responsibility over her own well being, and believing in the impact of her decisions are things that Rachel could certainly work on.

Despite Rachel’s lack of world experience she is incredibly compassionate and nonjudgmental when other characters are letting their skeletons out of the closet. She also has an admirable optimism and fresh outlook that is ultimately shaken and tested by the end of the play, but I don’t think the circumstances she’s given completely take those qualities away from her. She isn’t conflicted about trying to figure out who she is, in that she doesn’t feel the pressure or obligation to live up to what anyone else expects her to become. She fearlessly tries on different names, different therapists, different cities, figuring out what works and what doesn’t in shaping her own identity for herself.

I also learned from Sarah that the playwright had been abandoned in a gas station at the age of 10 months old—found by strangers, and adopted. Such a context is not necessary for enjoying or understanding Reckless, but it shed light on why the play so intensely grapples with lies, hidden motivations, abandonment, and the relationship between mother and son. I’m still waiting to hear back from Sarah on this one: In twenty years, who will Rachel be? Will she break down (or through) and reach out to her son?

Congratulations, cast of Reckless, to fine performances all around.

Reckless continues to run: October 16 & 17 7:30 p.m.
Oct 23, 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Oct 25: 3 p.m.
at Eureka Valley Recreation Center Auditorium
100 Collingwood Street in San Francisco

Admission: Free.

to reach SF Free Civic Theater:


Ethel Rohan said...

Thanks for spreading the good work, Tania. I hope to get to see this performance. Free? Wow.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...


thanks for cruising through here...wanted to say I love your short story collection title, If Only We Were SeaHorses...look forward to reading the collection when it comes out--let me know.