RWTG presented a dramatic reading of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, by Frank McGuinness, in Rome, Italy on August 27, 2009 at the International Association of Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes (IAGP) Conference. The production featured John Dluhy, Barry Wepman and Rob Williams as three Westerners held political hostage in Lebanon, circa 1985. John, Barry and Rob each gave nuanced and emotionally resonant performances. They collectively brought the ‘as if’ of the play powerfully and convincingly to life for everyone.
An audience discussion with the actors and director followed the presentation and was skillfully facilitated by Molly Donovan, Maryetta Andrews-Sachs and Mary Dluhy. Bob Schulte directed the reading.
In the performance program, dramaturge Molly Donovan commented, “The action of the drama takes place in a cell…where three Westerners are held captors. Halfway through our second rehearsal it struck the cast members they could be playing Muslims in Guantanamo, with Westerners holding the guns… The power of this play lies in its ability to engage nationality and politics and yet move beyond that engagement to become a reflection on relationship as an essential element of our humanity”—and by implication, of our survival.
The emergence of centuries-old nationalistic and political sentiments within the dynamics of the men’s efforts to relate served as a powerful reminder that no one is immune from the disruptive effect on relatedness of reactivated traumas, whether familial, cultural, or situational in origin.
Performing for an international audience of group therapists was a unique opportunity to explore these themes in depth. The audience discussion segment that followed the reading was rich with sophisticated and authentic reactions from an audience that hailed from all corners of the globe. We felt grateful and honored for the opportunity to share with them our collective and individual experiences of the play. The audience members’ courage to identify with both the hostages and the hostage takers created a safe space to consider the complex individual, group, national and global implications of the play’s themes. Good guy/bad pitfalls were thoughtfully navigated.
A future blog posting later this month will include reflections from the Red Well actors and discussion facilitators about their experiences of both the presentation and discussion. We’ll include more pictures of our time in Rome as well.
The genesis of the idea to present Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me has an interesting back-story of its own. Back in August 2008 I was traveling in Ireland to the 14th European Symposium of Group Analysis and had a transformative experience on the streets of Dublin. Curiously, this occured on the same day that Molly Donovan emailed me a script recommendation that we consider Someone Who’ll Watch Over me as our next production. I was so moved by the synchrony of the two events that it seemed the script choice was made by some larger unseen force. I wrote an article about my experience in Dublin for the Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society Newsletter. It is reprinted below with permission.
Theater and Group Therapy—Kindred Spirits
I was born into theater. Being one of seven children, the most mundane of events were inevitably a ‘production’, perpetually informed by sibling group dynamics. My first professional career was as a stage director and my second is as a group therapist. Surprise. Surprise. It turns out I needed the schooling of both disciplines on a side street in Dublin, Ireland this past August while attending the 14th European Symposium of Group Analysis at Trinity College. Paul Woodruff, author of The Necessity of Theater, would call my encounter an example of theater in the extreme—a public event such as a wedding, soccer game or lynching—with everyday citizens playing dual roles of audience and actors.
The back-story: I’m traveling alone and arrive two days early. The effects of jetlag lurk but I am determined to stay awake according to the Irish Summer Time. I find a health club and manage a modest workout. It’s 5 p.m.
The scene: As I come down the stairs from the locker room I can see out a side window two young men sitting on the curb, one in the lap of the other. Think two on a motorcycle seat. It’s an ambiguous picture—a not-quite-primal scene. I see no vigorous struggle and folks are going about their business. I come out onto the street where I find myself directly in front of the two men.
The main characters: A young Irish street ruffian, shaved head, broken teeth, white tee shirt, torn jeans. A young English chap, long blond curly hair, thin, casual dress, with all his teeth.
The action: The Irish lad has the English chap in a bear hug, trying to wrest away the English chap’s bag and a pack of cigarettes. I stand five paces away. Transfixed. People stop. Hesitate. Stutter step away. A young man, a local, finally approaches the two, playfully slaps the Irish lad’s face a couple of times, urging him to give it up but with no success. A street kid compatriot of the Irishman is nearby and tries to verbally lure his friend away to no avail.
After what seems an eternity a young black man comes out of the club. Stops. Observes. I meet his gaze—clear, cool, beautiful eyes. His arrival has a transformative impact on me. I realize I am no longer alone. I suggest, “two of us together could do something to help this situation. Why don’t we go over and see what we can manage”. He nods.
We approach the hapless duo. I speak to the Irishman firmly but not threateningly. “You’ve had your fun. It’s time to stop now. This has gone on long enough.” No response. His friend hollers, “Come on, let’s get out of here”. No effect. I speak to his friend. “I appreciate your effort to get your friend to move along. I think you should keep trying.” I keep talking. “I don’t know what has gone on here, but it’s time to stop. There are three of us now. And we’re not leaving until this is over.” “There are three of us now” is a bit of a gamble but it gets his attention. The lad let’s go his prey and they stand up. No one moves. All four of us are within arm’s reach of one another. Think small elevator. “You’re from the United States, aren’t you”, leaning towards me threateningly. ‘Did I overplay my hand?’ I feel my legs shaking. “Well, I admit I’m not from here, but I’m actually half Irish.” I repeat, “There are three of us now, and that changes things. I’m sure you’re stronger than any of us. But there are three of us now. It’s different.” I neither pander nor threaten. I offer a simple truth. The English chap and black man remain silent. The Irish lad leaves with predictable face-saving trash talk in his wake.
The denouement: Extending his hand our newly liberated chap erupts with “Thank you! Thank you so much!” When he shakes my hand I feel a surge that electrifies me, almost literally. It is a sweet moment of raw gratitude between two men. I ask him what had happened. “The guy asked for a cigarette and I offered him one, and then he tried to take the whole pack. I wouldn’t give it to him”. I realize in that simple statement that he was not defending his belongings so much as his dignity. Dignity stolen is a bigger crime. He had not been afraid to fight his own battle but our joining him left an inedible mark. Our brief drama ended, we three go our separate ways. I discreetly stand guard at the corner until I see both young men departing in the other direction. The rush of adrenaline receding I feel suddenly bereft. I cross the street to find my way back to Trinity College. Trinity. “There’s three of us now”. I smile. It’s 5:11 p.m.
Epilogue: I witnessed an eerily parallel scene at the Symposium’s Large Group later that week. A participant’s efforts to ‘save’ a seat prior to the start of the session was challenged by another, in full view of the group. No one initially said anything but when anger erupted into confrontation the group turned its attention to the issue and worked with skill and compassion. My encounters on the streets of Dublin and in the Large Group reinforce my belief that theater and group therapy have the most essential elements in common—enactments, bearing witness and reflective thought in the service of moving from isolation to community.