The Effects of Leaving Home – a response to NOTHIN’S GONNA CHANGE MY WORLD
When people ask me where I’m from, I usually hesitate before answering. The most frequent answer I give is “Minnesota,” which is more or less accurate, as I spent nineteen years there (or 56% of my life thus far), although many of those years include my childhood and were spent chiefly on or around my parents farm, located roughly an hour north of Fargo, North Dakota and about a ninety-minute drive south of the border into Manitoba. “Town,” for me growing up was seven miles away, a collection of houses and warehouses and restaurants and crappy malls and baseball fields and a high school and a Dairy Queen. This was on the Minnesota side. You could easily cross into North Dakota by driving over one of three major bridges and find yourself in Grand Forks (North Dakota) instead of East Grand Forks (Minnesota). In Grand Forks, there were at least a few decent coffee shops, a lot of bars, a biggish mall with cineplex, several more larger high schools, the Firehall Theater (where I performed in my first play), the University of North Dakota (where my dad worked and still works), a larger but still somewhat sepia-toned collection of people and houses and structures including, back in the day, a smiling water tower that appeared in Roadside America.
Is this my “home?” Or is it just now a place, like any other place? It seems less and less familiar every time I return. But “home” also can’t be Minneapolis, where I lived for nine years but kept moving around every year or two years, through different jobs in different neighborhoods; and frankly Minneapolis doesn’t feel the same either, when I return. Nor can home be Pittsburgh, where I only stayed for two years during the grad school years. Is it then New York? Is this home? It’s where I am now, which makes it ‘the place that I live,’ and our apartment is filled with familiar items that indicate ownership in general and underline the sensation of ‘being where one’s stuff is,’ which is homey I suppose. Yet, the answer “New York” is not what what people are asking for when they ask where I’m from. They want the ‘real’ home – which is to say, that which you’ve left far behind and yet stays with you forever.
In Mia Rovegno’s beguiling play nothin’s gonna change my world, a self-stated “episodic meditation on the dislocated and relocated in search of that mythological place called home,” performed in and around the Waterfront Museum in Red Hook (which is itself someone’s home in addition to being a museum), that sense of alienation and the distancing of one’s self from the idea of a “home” is un- and re-packed throughout an expansive evening of theater and music (given luminous voice and instrumentation by Alaina Ferris & Matt Schlatter, who also lend their talents as quasi-narrators via a radio-broadcaster-broadcasting-the-weather framing device that helps us move theatrically through space and time).
Rovegno (who is both writer and director) guides us throughout an environment assembled both on and around a rustic houseboat / barge located at Pier 44 and overlooking the Upper Bay and Statue of Liberty. On the night I attended, the summer heat had just broken and the evening was rapidly turning almost chilly. A mist started to fall just as the show began, with a song at the pier. We were then invited onto the houseboat where pillows and cushions were laid out for seating purposes. Low light and a parachute-like fabric transformed and focused the environment (the scenic and costume designer is Deb O, and the lighting designer is Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew). We were in Hoisington, Kansas, and four actors assumed the character of four kids who were about to attend their senior prom. Semi-narration (in a podcast kinda way) melded with a theatrical re-enactment of this particularly fateful evening for the youngsters; while they waited in the basement along with their classmates for the power to come back on and the storm to blow over, outside, their (home) town was being laid to waste via tornado. When they emerged from the basement, it was as if, as one of the characters puts it, “Kansas was a foreign country, like I couldn’t recognize it from what it was before.”
From there we are guided off the barge for a song and then back into it where we find ourselves in Gary, Indiana, and where Jerry (played with a rumpled generosity by Becca Blackwell) is preparing to go to his job at Supervalu while fantasizing aloud about ‘a town where you don’t have to cross state lines to go to a movie theater.’ (I can relate.) It’s not totally clear if Jerry is talking to us (the audience) or Horsey the dog (played by an actual dog, almost effortlessly stealing scenes at doggy whim) or perhaps a third party whose house/home Jerry will find himself trespassing within in a later scene.
So maybe we’re trespassers too – especially when, later, we are gathered in a garden in “Astoria, Queens” (but really still Red Hook) so as to overhear a rapid-fire first date of sorts between two breathless travelers of life – but maybe not, because this scene too has that semi-theatricality tonality and style that straddles what is both a scene between two characters and a sort of shared meta-monologue between two actors that acknowledges and speaks indirectly to an audience. It’s not my favorite device, in that it encourages a certain acting style that relies more heavily on volume, speed, and energy over nuance and (I guess) believability, but we’re outside, and have also just been fed and given ice tea, which tastes delicious.
Later, the tempo eases and we find ourselves back in the houseboat but at the other end, where Jerry addresses us for a while on a microphone (admitting that he just may have broken in to our house, eventually critiquing our DVD collection) and then we meet a mother and daughter in Terrell, Texas. For this episode, a highlight of the evening, the audience is really allowed to settle in and – notably – given enough time to find our own space (distance) between the characters onstage and what they’re saying. We’re able to do this, I think, because we are clearly observers here. The daughter is trying to – in her own rebellious way – leave home and her dead-beat mom for good, maybe move to California with her ex-boyfriend, and the scene is communicated entirely through one of them leaving a phone message for the other (or writing a note, etc), which has the overall effect of still being ‘narrated,’ but logically so. The doors of the barge had been opened up by this time and the mist was being blown sideways into and across the stage, lending a kind of atmospheric sadness to the proceedings, reminding us that we’re always splitting time and space – we’re both in a houseboat and in Texas. Outside you could make out the water taxis and other boats passing by. There was a persistent creaking sound as the dock rubbed against the barge, which eventually become part of the overall texture of the evening.
In the following extended episode, the only one of the evening that a) maintains its fourth wall, as well as b) features actors playing characters who are speaking to each other, not across time, space, and via letter or voice mail but in real space and time. They are a group of three bikers who are ideologically aligned with the Occupy movement who come across an old hippie couple who live in an RV somewhere on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona. The “home” being explored here is both physical – the RV itself – but also an absence of home, for the three bikers have made themselves willfully homeless and now come face to face with whom their future selves may well be. I, too, feel a bit homeless by now, but in an interesting way – a way that allows me to contemplate my own road travelled, my own choices, my way of telling a stranger who I “am” with regard to a concept or version of what my home might be.
After a final scene in which two siblings give voice to the letters they’ve written their father (who I think is in prison) in or around Erie, Pennsylvania, it’s back outside where the mist has stopped and a final song is sung for us, then, there, again in Red Hook, more than an hour (depending I suppose on one’s borough) from our own homes but having been meaningfully transported across many state lines of the mind over the course of the evening.
Another way of putting it: after seeing nothin’s gonna change my world, coming home feels like coming home. And that’s more than enough of a reason to leave in the first place.
nothin’s gonna change my world has remaining performances 7/15-7/17 at 7:30pm