Finally, with some time on my hands, I’m able to sit down and write a bit about THE HOSTAGE process, with a little perspective and, hopefully, a little insight into the work and our intentions.
I recognize that this play can be a little challenging to grasp. Lord knows in rehearsals, moment after moment, good intuitive actors had to stop and have a discussion about “why am I doing this now?” Just to grasp the history, and political beliefs of each of these individuals takes a whole lot of charts and diagrams and trust to just get the basics of the shifting allegiances brought about by the fight for Irish independence. I was grateful every day to have both Stefka, our dramaturg, and Eamonn McDonagh (playing Pat) in the room to provide guidance and insight and a vague road map of where Behan was coming from.
Even then, the shifts remain challenging. As Eamonn kept reminding us, there is a legend where Freud said that the Irish were the only people on the planet who are completely impervious to psychoanalysis. They love to fight and argue and sing and joke and dance and will do all of them within moments of each other – two folks can be fighting fiercely for their opposing political opinion one moment, then singing raucously the same freedom fighting song the next. They are, as a people, made up of a bag of impossible contradictions – so to represent them on stage is to embrace these contradictions, and hope that people spend less time looking moment to moment, and rather attepmt to grasp the whole picture at the end. One has to check one’s linear mind at the door. You cannot solve this play (or the Irish) with your heads. You have to use your heart.
And ultimately that’s why I love this play. It is a collection of such beautiful, flawed, painfully real individuals who embrace these contradictions and embrace the fullness of life in every moment. They are the people that were left behind, the fringe – none of these people will be important to the course of Irish history, or the movement – they aren’t particularly gifted poets – they are the everyday people of Ireland, fighting for their beliefs, or the next pint of Guiness, or the two pounds for the rent. But, despite their ordinariness, they fight for life with ferocity and a fullness of spirit of the greatest of Irish heroes.
No one feels that their life is unimportant. Behan wrote this for the people he knew from the neighborhood, those nameless, faceless people who he saw every day growing up in Dublin’s Fringe. We try to honor those people with this production.
Similarly, Behan looks at the cost of war – and that the people who pay the price aren’t the high up decision makers, not the generals making the plans, but the every day. As Meg says, “Old women and mother’s with their infants” – or in Leslie’s case – a 19 year old Cockney boy without a family, who has no real prospects and nothing much to look forward to. But Behan knows that, to him, he’s just as important as any Duke or Lord of the manor.
For the tragedy of the play to come from a chaotic misunderstanding is a strong comment on the absurdity of a war effort. Talk to some of our returning soldiers even now – the mission may be clear, but anytime you try to lay a black and white morality over the intricate grayness of our human existence, you are going to have trouble reconciling the differences. Our lives are not neatly ordered and regimented in sharp clear ideology. This play celebrates those contradictions and asks us to recognize that THAT is what makes us human, and brings us together, and that life must be cherished above all things.
Yes, the play is messy. It’s too much. It shifts to quickly. Sometimes it’s confusing and, when you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense. But that is so often my experience of life as well. And I believe that, if you come to this play with your heart, instead of your head, you’ll find a richness of experience that feels to me remarkably human.
I love this play. I hope you do to.