The production of Terrence McNally’s Bringing It All Back Home in Studio Theatre this weekend has reaffirmed the mission statement of this experimental, student-run space: to provide a safe place to make mistakes and bold choices in a receptive, theatrical setting.
For directors, designers, actors, Theatre Advisory Board members and all other students involved in the process, putting together a production, especially one such as this, is a challenge in and of itself.
Terrence McNally is a noted American playwright who has made a career of pushing the boundaries and writing about themes that are on the forefront of our national awareness. He has a solid arsenal of literature that ranges from comedy, drama and even musical theatre.
In this production, American stigmas relating to homosexuality and patriotism were brought head to head with one another. Patriarchal views of honor, duty and respect were touted until they became tawdry imitations of what they really were.
The family of the play is accepting the body of their son, Jimmy, after he has been killed in the war and at the same time is preparing for the arrival of the camera crews. Markedly, there is much more pomp and circumstance afforded to the entrance of the television network.
This kind of misappropriation of emotion and judgment were a staple in Bringing It All Back Home, a play in which the norm was to treat pivotal and auxiliary events with the same glib reception. This uniform reaction lent the play a surreal, absurdist sensibility.
Bringing It All Back Home is a play that directly confronts gendered normative expectations. The characters routinely confuse their gender-specific pronouns and the exaggerated flippancy with which they treat the high-tension situations in which they find themselves heightens this apathy that pervades this and the rest of the action.
Common to all McNally’s work is his penchant for subverting the ordinary. Perhaps this triggered some of the gender-bending casting choices used in this play.
“Daughter” was played by freshman Cole Atcheson, while “Son” was played by sophomore Megan Young. This switch was dealt with in surprisingly psychologically realistic aspect. Atcheson pranced and preened while Young sulked and smirked. The theme of gender was furthered by Father, played by freshman Steve Selwa, and his obsession with masculinity, comparing “Son” with Jimmy, the family’s dead son.
Jimmy, laid out in what the audience assumes is a coffin, comes to life to tell his side of the story. His family is ascribing qualities and victories upon him that he does not deserve or remember about himself. He rails against their ignorance and misinterpretation of events. His lines were delivered with melancholy and burdensome knowledge.
As a bare-stage production performed in thrust, Bringing It All Back Home had to play catch up in order to compensate for the limitations imposed upon a director’s first work. Its message came across in bold actor choices as well as commendable staging.