Sometimes an event is planned: a wedding, a graduation, a party, a football game. It doesn’t happen. It gets cancelled. You try not to think about it. But you spent too much time before the event mentally rehearsing the things you would’ve said, the clothes you would have worn, the food you would have eaten. So a long time after the cancellation, they come back to you.
My play Genograms started as a short story called “Family Resemblances”. After a few years, I turned it into a one-act play. Members of my playwrights’ group liked it. I tweaked it, and brought it to a master class at Ensemble Studio Theatre.
Ensemble Studio Theatre used to have land in the Catskills. They would hold labs and workshops there. I had attended a one-week lab there one summer for purposes of developing a one-man show. I came back there for a weekend master class held by Romulus Linney. Romulus Linney, though not widely known, was one of the best playwrights of his time. I learned more from him in one weekend than most students learn in a semester.
It was there that I realized my play was a full-length work. I waited more time, still, and rewrote it as Genograms. It was considered for production by a professional theatre, but this ended when there was a shakeup in the theatre management. Such are the politics of the theatre.
My playwright’s group was known for giving public readings. But for reasons having nothing to do with my play, its members were uninterested in doing a reading of Genograms. I had to push and shove my way into getting the reading done. This turned me off to writers’ groups. I left the group a year later.
Nevertheless, the public reading went well. The audience liked the play, and the director said it should be done in New York. Using the director’s theatre as a submitting organization, I applied to the New York Fringe Festival. Genograms was accepted. A downtown theatre was booked, and dates were established.
But the director did not get together the production. With only one of three parts cast two weeks before we were to go on, I told the director to cancel the project.
My play’s title comes from a concept of the American psychiatrist and family therapist Murray Bowen. In his work, Bowen noted patterns of behavior in families. These patterns would repeat across generations.
The concept is important. Santayana said that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. As the family is the microcosm of society, all human behavior can be better understood through the study of genograms. Individuals who understand their family histories are less likely to repeat family mistakes.
My play is not a textbook demonstration of Bowen’s theory. It is not clinical. It is simply the story of a girl who seeks out her biological mother. But I thought it important that Murray Bowen’s work be known.
In 1808, Goethe published a novel called Elective Affinities. Elective affinities, or the attraction of chemicals to each other, was a principle of chemistry known from the late 1700’s. Goethe, who was a scientist as well as a poet, playwright and novelist, adopted this chemical concept to show the problematic behaviors of the lovers in his novel. So have I, with Genograms, adopted a recent scientific concept in a work of fiction.
Since the Fringe cancellation, I have done little to promote this play. But I am content to wait. Ibsen’s Love’s Comedy, written in 1862, was not produced until 1876, when the Duke of Saxe Meiningen directed it. Buchner’s Woyceck, composed in 1836, was not shown on stage until 1918, when Alban Berg saw it, and was inspired to make an opera of it. A number of Brecht’s plays were not staged during his lengthy years of exile from Germany.
So I have good reason to bide my time with Genograms.