Fertile Ground Portland

A Festival of New Works Blog

Rebecca Frost Mayer + O’Flannery’s Pub: The Well-Made Play December 18, 2009


Jamesons and Guinness:  The Irish are synonymous with hard drinking.  Is it cultural?  Is it genetic?  Do they deserve this reputation or is it just bad PR from those angry Victorians?  Well, although Ireland’s alcohol consumption has declined these past few years, it still ranks within the top four among EU countries, and multiple articles (here’s one) indicate that tackling addiction is becoming a medical priority.  Something to think about as we ride the waves of the holiday season and head towards champagne and/or Portland-micro-brew New Years and choose to moderate, indulge, or abstain.

Alcoholism is just one of the topics playwright Rebecca Frost Mayer, most recently seen in Miracle Theatre Group‘s Canta y no llores, touches upon in her soon-to-be-unveiled O’Flannery’s Pub.

Rebecca Frost MayerO’Flannery’s Pub is a family drama that takes place in a fictional bar located just outside of Boston. The bar is owned by a woman named Margaret and her husband Patrick, and they had told their son Seamus that when he turns 30 he will acquire a share of the family business; however, Seamus has gotten a little out of control recently with his drinking and his behavior in the bar. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Caitlin, is sort of dealing with some issues and Seamus’s best friend since childhood, Mark, is working at the bar to earn some extra money because he’s building a house. Mark also teaches Health at a school and coaches baseball, and the boys used to play baseball together when they were growing up. And everybody in the show is a big Red Sox fan.

th – I definitely got the wrong team there with my bad Dodger’s joke.  [The joke is so bad I won’t repeat it here.]

RFM – It’s okay. I’m wearing a navy blue sweater right now so I can see how that would throw anybody off. And Manny is a Dodger now so I don’t completely hate them. You know, they’re the national league anyway.

th – Totally all going over my head.

RFM – You won’t have to be a baseball fan to get the show.

th – What are some themes or ideas you’re playing with? We’ve got a family bar and people in trouble.

RFM – And baseball. We have a mother and a son who are coming to a major rift as the son is growing up or maybe not growing up. We have some marital stuff going on. Basically, Maggie believes her son is an alcoholic and she is in dispute with her husband over whether that’s A. True, whether B. It matters, and whether C. It’s okay to include him in the family business. Patrick thinks that they need to keep their promise and be people of their word and Maggie thinks that Seamus needs to get himself some help. Seamus and Caitlin fight a lot, which is sort of the dynamic of their relationship anyway, although it’s revealed during the play that Caitlin is fairly stressed out about Seamus’ behavior so she starts going to a support group.

I’ve written plays in the past about similar themes. I did a one-woman show when I was in college on the subject of alcoholism; it’s a subject near and dear to my heart. I have many family members and close friends who have gone through treatment for it, and I at one time in my life attended support groups for family members of people who are struggling with alcoholism. I think it’s a really fascinating subject and it’s never been my intention to write a play about why alcohol is bad or that somehow all people who drink are alcoholics, but it’s such an interesting gray area, it’s referred to pretty commonly as a disease, and so that whole idea that it could be a mental illness or a disease makes for really interesting material. This play, as the title suggests, is about a very Irish family; however, there are references in the script to the fact that [the Irish are] certainly not the only ones, although there has been some research that has shown that that is an ethnic group that may have more of a genetic predisposition to alcoholism than, say, other ethnic groups.

th – Are you Irish?

RFM – You know, we’re unsure. There’s a part of my family lineage where the name “Frost” comes from that’s from somewhere in the British Isles. One of my grandfathers thinks that that person may have been Irish or I would say it’s more likely English based on the name, just research I’ve done on “Frost”s, but it’s entirely possible – I have freckles.

th – What was the inspiration for this specific play?

RFM – I worked at a bar in Boston when I was going to school there. It was owned by a family, not unlike the family that is depicted in this play. Basically, on my first night of the job I was introduced to the son of the owners, though it’s unclear to me whether he was a part-owner or not. He was a really charismatic, outgoing, brash, funny, forceful individual, and he had a goatee that was red on one side and gray on the other side, and this was a naturally occurring phenomenon – it’s nowhere in the play but it’s just something good to know about him. He had a girlfriend that was working there who was the lead waitress and their relationship had an interesting dynamic, and I always really admired the woman who owned this bar. She just seemed like a really keen businesswoman and her husband was not the easiest person to get along with. I was working here and I just got this idea because I do this when I’m in interesting situations and meet interesting people I think, “Okay, I could write a play about these people.” So I very thinly disguised it and my senior year I wrote a draft of it. It was a one-act at the time and it was actually very interesting because I had friends from my class at [Boston University] do a reading of it and for my birthday, which was a few weeks later, we went to the bar where I was working and somebody was like, “Okay, so which one here’s Seamus?” “Oh, is that Caitlin? Oh, yeah, she’s totally Caitlin.” I love Boston very much and I love the Red Sox and I really wanted to write a play that would be set there. It’s been really great to work on it now, especially in the wintertime when this weather reminds me of being there.

th – What’s your writing process been for O’Flannery’s Pub?

RFM – This one’s taken place over several years. I worked on a draft and then I sort of put it away and then I decided to pick it up and, after getting some feedback on it, I decided to expand it into a full-length play. So I did some stuff with that and I did a very informal reading of it here in town several years ago and I then I got caught up doing other writing [and acting and teaching] projects; [but] I just kept coming back to this play. So this is the first full-length play that I’ve ever finished and done multiple drafts of and had performed.

th – For Fertile Ground you’re doing a reading. Is it a music stand reading or a staged reading?

RFM – It’s going to be a reader’s theatre/concert style reading. That had at least been the director’s [Andrew Wardenaar] and my plan. And we were talking about the idea of possibly adding some blocking but I got an email the other day from Theatre Vertigo, who I’m renting the space from, that there’s going to be a fish tank on the stage that is non-moveable, so that circumstance has partially dictated the format of the performance, which is fine because I believe that everything happens for a reason. If the fish are dictating that it’s gonna be a concert reading, it’s meant to be a concert reading.

th – What do you hope to get out of this reading?

RFM –I am really looking forward to hearing [the play]. I’ll definitely be in the audience taking furious notes. There will be a talkback afterwards that Andrew, my director, will be moderating so I really look forward to receiving feedback in a structured environment like that. And I sincerely hope that as many members of the theatre community that are available can be there. Of course I’d love to get some conversations going about the play’s potential for production.

th – Do you feel this is still in a draft form? Do you think this is the final form?

RFM – I’m in the process of doing a rewrite right now based on some feedback I got way back last spring from my playwright’s group and also from Andrew, who’s been hugely helpful in the writing process. I think that what happens on January 26th will be a final draft and then based on the feedback I get that night there might be one more draft after that before I start submitting it real seriously.

th – What do you think makes this play kick-ass? Why do you think the world needs O’Flannery’s Pub?

RFM – Well, I think it’s a really heartfelt, high-stakes family drama with a strong sense of humor. The characters are really relatable and compelling. I’m a firm believer in the well-made play. I love all of the directions playwriting has taken in the last 50 years and I love what so many contemporary playwrights have done with the structure of plays. I think it’s also important to see and hear and do plays that are really based in story and a theme and strong characters. I think that’s really valuable.

th – Do you have a favorite character? Are you in the play?

RFM – No, actually. And that’s a rarity for me. When I wrote the play, I had initially written Caitlin as a character I could play because being an actor and playwright I do that a lot, although I let go of it somewhere in the writing process and I am happy to watch another actor play that role now. It shifts. I really love Maggie. And in a lot of ways I love Seamus. In a lot of ways I love Mark.

***

O’Flannery’s Pub plays January 26, 2010, 7:30pm @ Theater!  Theatre!

Directed by Andrew Wardenaar
Cast:
MARGARET: Alyson Osborn
SEAMUS: John San Nicolas
CAITLIN: Aubrey Jessen
MARK: Tony Cull
PATRICK: Chris Porter
BOB: Michael Biesansz

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