Theatre Studies and Music double major Meagan Schrock questions the nature of truth and the impact of social conditioning in her Talk on the Steps for Harper Regan:
When I knew I was going to do this talk I sat down with Director Kevin Otos to talk about the play. I said, “Kevin this play angers me.” And he laughed and said, “why does it anger you?” I said, “I can’t put this play in a box. I can’t say with certainty, this play is about “blank.” There are questions posed in this play that I just can’t answer. And that frustrates me.” And I thought, “I can’t put this play in a box yet I get so angry when people try to put me in a box. When people try to define me up by the sum of my parts.”
Roundabout Theatre Company has a marketing campaign called “It’s About You”. It started in their 2013 season and using the phrase “It’s About” sums up in one sentence what each particular show was about.
Into the Woods: It’s About What Happens when you get exactly what you wish for
Indian Ink: It’s about the love that takes you by surprise
Machinal: It’s about the choices you don’t get to make
I tried to do this to Harper Regan and I just couldn’t do it in a way that seemed to honor the entire play. And in a way I and probably others try to do this to every play we see read or see. And I just couldn’t do it. At first it made me angry, but in pondering it I asked myself, “what does this say about me and how I and other people view our art and our society? Why does everything need to be synthesized? Why does everything need to be summarized?”
Some possible answers can be found in examining truth as it exists in this play. You will see shortly that the issue of truth is a big theme in Harper Regan. We will see just how far someone will go to find the truth, hide the truth or tell the truth. Many characters in this play are blatantly forthcoming from the moment we meet them, almost to a fault. I think it begs the question: What would happen if we told the truth all the time? The absolute truth? What would happen if we said exactly what we were thinking all the time. If we said exactly what we were thinking to the people walking down the street. It would probably ruffle some feathers. How many of us would actually do that? Think about it, we’re socially conditioned to filter ourselves. Socially conditioned to withhold comments viewed as impolite. This is the classic: “does this dress make me look fat” moment. We are conditioned to lie. We’re lying by omission. I think you’ll see shortly that this play challenges that. From the moment it begins, its characters blatantly open up about things most of us would keep secret. Still some characters continue to search for the one piece of truth they think will solve their problems. There’s a large contradiction between the truth we tell and the truth we don’t and it’s so frustrating. On the one hand you have characters that withhold nothing while others cling to their secrets like their life depends on it. We will see in this play characters who act on the things we are socially conditioned to keep to ourselves, who act upon desires we like to admit we don’t have. They act on things we might view as strange, awkward or just wrong. But who’s to say we don’t have those desires either?
What I think Simon Stephens, the playwright, is doing with Harper Regan is challenging our social conditioning. He’s saying that we don’t necessarily have as much control as we would like over ourselves as we like to think. He’s challenging our need to put things in boxes, to define something in one “It’s About” sentence and then move on. To search for concrete truth in everything we see hear or read.
There are issues in this play and in our world are not black and white but are very much grey. Tonight, you might not know where you stand, how you feel about these issues. And that’s ok. But the journey of trying to piece these social issues, the journey in confronting our social conditioning, if we choose to I think is really spectacular.
I don’t think this play asks us to reconcile with either side but to simply be aware of what lies between the black and the white, what lies within the grey, so to speak.. You are not going to walk out of this play with a nugget of wisdom about the human condition, nor a call to action to a social cause or a prescriptive response to a modern society. What you hopefully will walk out of here is with more questions and a better means to start conversations on topics none of us would like to admit exist.
So get frustrated, angry, feel awkward, squeamish, I’ll be right there with you. Or don’t. It’s up to you. I’m not going to try and put you in a box. But I will ask that you simply ponder the questions in this play. And if you’d like to do some more questioning or if you’d like to learn more about the play, you can check out some of the dramaturgy I did for Harper Regan on my blog, dramaturgyspot.tumblr.com. Thank you, I hope enjoy the show.