Grief and All Her Friends

Seawall / A Life was actually two one-man plays, which I probably should have known, but did not; I thought the slash was stylistic. The program at The Public did not indicate why the one-acts were put together, but it’s pretty obvious.


Both focus on blood loss: how to cope with a death in the family when it feels like you are the one bleeding and may not survive. This sounds dire. It is. Might be cathartic, but I would not recommend it for anyone in the midst of the grieving process (although, are we ever out of the grieving process?) Bring tissues.


The production design is self-aware, with actors turning on and off the lights for themselves. We know there’s a PA actually handling the cues, (because they’re not always quite aligned) but regardless it evokes a transparency that does service to the eagerly masochistic scripts. The set holds no soft edges to speak of, nothing gentle to hold you up. Only the knowledge that you have to go on living. The texts may ease you into the tragedies, like a lobster boiling alive, but there is a joy in ripping out your heart and showing it off. The actors manage to make what could tend towards the voyeuristic feel true. Nice!


What is it about blood relations that is different? We don’t necessarily understand them any better, we probably don’t have a lot of hobbies in common. And yet everyone gets a specific title in our lives to stake their claim with: mother, brother, father, daughter. This is a linguistic intimacy that friends can’t match, which is important because it’s not an intimacy you get to choose—regardless of how much you love your sister, she is your sister. I think that’s what is so horrifying about these plays; this is not a loss you can back your way out of. But by the same stroke, you don’t get to choose who matters. Even your very dearest friends are not bound to you with blood (unless you do some weird Hardy Boys' blood oath, and please don’t). As much as we allow for patchworkfamilien, these texts assert that there is something intimately beatific in the nuclear family that other types of love may not be able to overcome. I resist this reading by acknowledging exceptions to the rule.


Neither play ends with death, but rather the promise of the future and the trauma that it inevitably includes. Yet just as much as these are meditations on destruction, they hold quiet, every day happiness in the highest esteem. If you actually confronted every Rockwellian tableau with this intensity of focus, the pressure would leave little room for frivolity. But if you can force yourself to sweat the small stuff and pay attention to the moments of joy in the mundane, take note of them as they happen, then you can hope to find them again, when you have to stitch yourself back up later.


Cocktail Review: Sazerac — smoky, subtle, undiluted.

Song Review: Don’t Let the Kids Win, by Julia Jacklin — so it goes.

Clue Review: Mrs. White in the bedroom with an eiderdown pillow — terribly human, and as such, attempts to make the passing gentle. May even hold your hand.


The show runs until the end of March.