Second Thought Theatre has a reputation of presenting thought-provoking plays that wrestle with the big questions of life. The Dallas theatre will build on that distinction with its production of a double feature of plays by Caryl Churchill, "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?" and "Here We Go." The two one-acts are now being performed together at Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys Campus until June 29.
Alex Organ, the theater's artistic director, directs the double feature. He has long admired Churchill as one of the most innovative playwrights of modern theater. Churchill's career spans more than six decades, encompassing work for stage, radio, television and film.
"An argument can be made that she's the greatest living playwright, period. In the world. Just her longevity is impressive. The ability to stay relevant for decades and decades is remarkable. Her consistency of quality is impressive as well," Organ said. "She changed the game in the same way at the same time that Pinter did in England, experimenting with form, with style, with big allegory in her plays."
Organ considered producing one of Churchill's well-known plays like "Cloud Nine" and "Top Girls," but while reading her one-act plays, he realized the theatre could offer a distinctive theatrical experience.
"What if we take a couple of them and present them not as companion pieces but as a double bill just to celebrate her work and give Dallas audiences a chance to see two plays that they've never seen before in Dallas by one of the greatest playwrights of all time," Organ said.
The plays are not related thematically. The theater's production of the two works uses the same cast and are performed on the same set. Organ points out the plays look similar on the page. The dialogue is written in fragments with no punctuation or capitalization. He selected a cast of artists he knows well.
"These plays are so difficult to unlock. There's no stage directions, there's no help, there's no roadmap for how the plays should be," Organ said. "Because there's no roadmap, I knew I needed to get a team together that could figure this out with me."
The evening begins with "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?" Written in 2006, it is Churchill's exploration of American identity as depicted by two characters, "GUY, a man" and "SAM, a country." Churchill's impetus for writing the show was the relationship between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former President George W. Bush leading up to the Iraq War. The relationship between GUY and SAM is convoluted. "It's complicated, deeply, deeply complicated, thrilling, deadly and fraught with peril," Organ said.
In the original production, GUY was named JACK, a British man. In subsequent productions, Churchill changed the name to GUY to emphasize this character is an individual who fell in love with America."She clearly wanted it to be less specific on GUY's side, so she gave him the name GUY to make him more universal, more of an Everyman," Organ said.
Organ deliberately decided GUY would be an American. "As an American production in 2019, I think our audiences are most interested in what my relationship with America is from the inside as an American," Organ said. "It is an identity play. It is a play about American identity, the good and the bad."
"Here We Go" is a mediation on one of the theater world's classic themes: death. "The message I take away is a reminder of how fleeting life is, how short life is and on the cosmic scale, how small our lives are. But it does not take the stance that the ephemerality of our lives is to be lamented. It just is," Organ said.
The action of this play moves backwards. The beginning of the play features friends of a recently deceased man discussing his life at a post-funeral reception. The second part features the deceased man experiencing the moment of his death and passing into another existence. The final section of play is performed silently as a caretaker helps dress and undress the man during the final days of his life.
"Churchill is calling out the duality of our nature. It can be grand and remarkable and impressive, and it can touch many lives, but it can be small and helpless at the end," Organ said.
From the playwright's perspective, death is too common to be dreaded. "She's also reminding us that the great universal thing that we all share is birth and death. We will all be born, and we will all die. There's no getting around that. So, if that's a shared universal experience that we are all going to go through no matter what, maybe that can remove some of the fear and uncertainty surrounding that journey," Organ said. "Something about that activates my sense of shared humanity."