Talk about walking a tightrope. As a playwright, it’s imperative that I tell a good story. It must be open and honest and true. It has to be realistic as I’ve come to paint that life tapestry in my mind. But is my audience ready for such a truthful adaptation about their own final demise?
Statistically speaking, many folks in the audience are going to be faced with their own reality acted out up there on the stage. Some might become very upset. Others could feel pain and anguish because I’ve opened up old wounds once again.
All of this theatrical honesty could threaten to turn the audience against me. It might provoke some into anger and outrage at the audacity of sharing such a personal storyline. Here is reality staring them back in the face. How are they going to react? How will they take this honest portrayal of their parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, neighbors and, perhaps, themselves…as they are all about to die? That’s my dilemma and the challenge facing my newest play.
The play is called ‘The Last Sentinel’ and it joins my other plays that have tried to examine snippets of real life. The storyline is simple enough. Four old women in a nursing home are facing the end of their lives. That probably sounds a bit crass but it succinctly describes the premise of this play. It’s about death, dying, denial, and acceptance.
We‘re all going to face it. Or perhaps we’ve seen others face it recently. I’m talking about the death of people we know no matter if they’re close to us or not. Perhaps these are people we’ve known all of our lives or a part of it and now it’s time for them to go.
Everyone handles his or her own end of life differently. Some are in total denial until they take their last breath. Others gather family and friends around them for a final good-bye. I don’t think anyone really knows how they’re going to handle that situation until faced with it themselves.
So why would I want to write a play about old folks facing their demise and some not handling it well? For laughs, of course. And to explore a seldom discussed reality facing all of us.
I honestly can’t remember where the idea came from. This play was one of six story outlines that I vomited out (sorry but it does describe the sudden uncontrollable retching out of ideas from my brain) in one overly caffeinated afternoon when the ideas started flowing non-stop and I began typing away furiously to capture them before they slipped out of my collective consciousness.
I’ve been there at the end with my parents, Sharon’s parents, aunts, uncles, and assorted acquaintances. It’s hit home but it really hasn’t. I think when others my own age or closer to me start to pass then it will hit home a lot harder.
So I wanted to write an honest play about death and dying but also to get some chuckles in at the same time. I knew right from the start that my four old women would be a wonderful menagerie of quips, comments, complaints, statements and sometimes outrageous antidotes for reality. They would reflect many older folks I’ve known over the years.
So in the story, simply stated, the women make a pact to stick together and be there for one another until the end. It’s an agreement they struggle to keep. They nag at one another and yet show love and compassion at the same time. They argue about nothing and still shore up sagging feelings while doing so. They all face the inevitable in different ways and reveal to the audience their true colors. They are irritable, persnickety and remind all of us of people we know, knew or want to forget. But in the end, I hope they represent a realistic portrait of individuals facing that ultimate test in life.
‘The Last Sentinel’ is warm and engaging. It is outrageous and funny. But I hope mostly it is a celebration of the human spirit when it is needed the most. The play isn’t a melodrama or a tragedy or a maudlin check-off of someone’s life. Instead it is a rich tapestry of life recaptured, the power of friendship and self-actualization celebrating life. It will be engaging, truthful and a lot of laughs. What better way to remember someone’s final good-bye than with a smile on your face.
Oh, and the music will be pretty neat too.
August of 2019 is the date set for the premiere of ‘The Last Sentinel’ at the Steeple Center in Rosemount, Minnesota