Pulitzer Prize finalist Jon Marans’ new four-character play home sick – an American haunting is the latest script getting developed in Alma Theatre Company’s Fresh, Raw and Wild Equity Staged Reading Series in San Francisco. Cristina Anselmo directs the drama of reunited sisters confronting the truth of their childhood memories.
Marans was a 1996 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his play Old Wicked Songs. He also penned The Temperamentals (seen in an acclaimed Off-Broadway run) and a new book for the musical Paint Your Wagon (playing St. Louis MUNY this season), among other works.
Here’s how the indie-minded Alma Theatre Company bills home sick: “After the death of their parents, two sisters — one a journalist, the other a politician — return to the house they grew up in, now considered ‘stigmatized property.’ Each hope to figure out what really happened in this house. Their memories are tested as to what is true and what is false — ultimately exploring if the truth really matters anyway.”
“It’s loosely based on a close friend of mine’s very personal story,” Marans told me. “She mentioned that she would be fine with me writing about it. Until I started interviewing some of the people involved in the story I was unsure what the theme or the hook would be. But as I heard everyone’s somewhat differing stories, it led me to explore one sister’s shaky memory of sexual abuse and the awakening of repressed memory in the other sister.”
Marans added, “So much of this play is about memory — what we’re certain we remember, what we think we remember, what we’re certain we can’t remember — until something triggers it. And yet, then questioning if these triggers really bring out the truth or not. Both of the sisters in this story are dealing with all of those things.”
The reading cast features Amy Prosser, Kelli Kerslake Colaco, Tim Fullerton and Josiah Polhemus.
home sick plays 2 PM April 27, 2019, at Phoenix Theatre II, 414 Mason St. at Union Square, San Francisco. Tickets are free, but a reservation is recommended at homesick.brownpapertickets.com
The sisters in the play return to a house they grew up in, and it’s a sort of haunted house, but not in a supernatural way. Was “a haunted house” on the playwright’s mind from the beginning, or did that evolve?
“That evolved,” Marans said. “I always knew the house would feel haunted, but just metaphorically because of the past hanging over it. However, the more I wrote (and rewrote and rewrote), and the more I heard it in casual readings in the 72nd Street Gang writers group sessions, the more I realized this truly was a haunted house/ghost story. And I should try and embrace that element and not tiptoe around it.”
The Barrow Group in New York City gave home sick an earlier reading.
I asked the playwright about the challenge of writing home sick. Marans told me, “It’s tricky in this play because so much of it is about keeping the audience just slightly off-balance — unsure of things — just as the characters are off-balance and unsure. And just as the characters — and hopefully the audience members — start to think things are becoming crystal clear, something else happens that makes you question if you really are getting closer to the truth. Maybe we’re even further from it. Obviously I want the audience to be intrigued, but not completely lost. That balancing act is something I continue to work on.”
How is home sick different or similar to Marans’ other work?
“Many of my plays have a political component to them, such as The Temperamentals or Old Wicked Songs,” he said. “Since this play is ultimately about whether the truth matters or not, I think it is also political — especially today. Also three of the four characters in this play are actually involved in politics either in trying to spin the truth, create a new truth or professing to find out what the real truth is.”
Marans’ home sick is the final play in Alma Theatre Company’s 2018-19 Fresh, Raw and Wild Equity Staged Reading Series, which was devoted to staged readings of three works by members of New York City’s 72nd Street Gang Playwrights Collective: Enid Graham’s What Martha Did, Kenneth Jones’ Hollywood Nebraska, and now Marans’ new play.
Alma founding artistic director Kelli Kerslake Colaco, now a Bay Area resident, remains a member of 72nd Street Gang. Her play Hazardous Materials got a staged reading by Alma in 2017. The company also developed and fully produced her well-reviewed play-with-folk-music you are my sunshine.