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The 2009 Flournoy Playwright Festival Presents Where We’re Born Nov. 5-7

Lesbians, sex and incest, oh my! This year’s Flournoy Playwright Festival features the works of Lucy Thurber, including Where We’re Born, which focuses on life in a small, working-class town, where “family relationships are maintained by a delicate balance between desire and dependency.”

Where We’re Born runs from Thursday, Nov. 5 to Saturday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in the Keller Theatre. There will be talkbacks following each performance of Where We’re Born, featuring Thurber and several other moderators, including Melissa Caron ’09 and Professors Ellen Mayock, Todd Ristau and Domnica Radulescu.

Also included in the Festival is a special reading of Thurber’s Scarcity, directed by Rob Mish ’76, on Saturday, Nov. 7, at 3 p.m. in the Keller Theatre. Tickets are required for Where We’re Born and can be purchased on-line at lenfest.wlu.edu or call the Lenfest Box Office for more information at 540-458-8000. Where We’re Born and Scarcity contain adult content and themes, and are not suitable for children. No tickets are required for the reading of Scarcity.

Thurber is an acclaimed author, having had plays workshopped and staged by several nationally acclaimed companies, including the Manhattan Theatre Club, Williamstown, Rattlestick’s Playwrights Theater and the Atlantic Theater Company.

In Where We’re Born, Lilly (played by Jenna Worsham ’10) returns from her urban life at college to her small, rural hometown in Massachusetts, where her cousin, Tony (Brian Devine ’10), his girlfriend Franky (Melissa Szumlic ’10), and their friends Vin (Dave Curran ’11) and Drew (Johnny Coyle ’11) await her.

Lilly’s life before college was decidedly fractured- due to an unpleasant relationship with her mother, she depended on Tony to shelter her from other students who bullied her because of her intelligence. Despite this, Lilly’s homecoming is completely alienating and nontraditional. Director Marquita Robinson ’10 says, “Lilly’s journey is a struggle to reconcile two worlds. While her classmates are probably greeted (at home) with cookies and homemade sweaters, Lilly comes home to a can of beer and a cigarette.”

Lilly’s return causes chaos in the lives of her cousin Tony and his girlfriend Franky, whose relationship is made tense by Tony’s repeated philandering and Franky’s feelings of abandonment. The play culminates in the destruction of both of the relationships connecting Lilly to her hometown.

Clearly, Where We’re Born is not a light play. So a natural question to ask would be why the theater department would choose to stage such a production, and if the department expects W&L students to attend such an unconventional, unsettling production. Robinson provides an answer in her director’s notes: ” When you take a look at why theater exists in our society in the first place…it gives us permission to look into the lives of others…Audiences want to leave the theater changed and enlightened.” She concludes that, “to say that a play like Where We’re Born is not relevant to W&L students is to say that the struggles of human life are not relevant to us.”

It is certainly true that most people at Washington and Lee do not have a personal connection to the world of Where We’re Born, but that is exactly why we should attend a performance; given how many of us are future doctors, lawyers, and politicians, we have a duty to understand the lives of those for whom we wish to work. Consider attending such a well-written, moving play to be part of your cultural education.

The reading of Thurber’s Scarcity, directed by Rob Mish ’76, focuses on a small, isolated town in western Massachusetts. The Lawrence family struggles with poverty, boredom and lost potential. Into their lives comes Ellen, a highly educated, wealthy and well-traveled young woman who wants to give back to her country through education. She teaches in the public school system where Billy and Rachel Lawrence go, and she develops an obsession with Billy’s intelligence, insight and potential. Her obsession and desire to lift Billy out of poverty tears the family apart.

Director Mish says, “Each of these plays brings a relevance to the W&L and the Rockbridge county communities as they both could easily take place right here. If we would simply open our eyes and ears we might notice some things that could happen in our own back yards.”