For Caridad: Troy Story
I was sitting in Thompson House - one time home of the inventor of a very efficient sub-machine gun - sipping a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. The Mount Pleasant String Band pickin’ and dancin’ like bluegrass moths around a retro mic; just another Summer evening in the Tri-state.
Next morning I caught a Greyhound down to Dayton, where the Accord was signed, I was on my way to Troy, Ohio, But when I arrived at Dayton, turns out, there was no way for me to get there. “No bus?” “No bus” “No train?” “No train” “But Troy is a city of twenty thousand!” “You just don’t there” “Right...” “ Well you could call a cab, but that’d cost you a hundred and fifty bucks” “Hundred and fifty bucks!” I nearly got on that Greyhound and headed back to banks of the Ohio, when this black guy said “I’ll take you there.” His name was Jesse – great guy, without him I would not have reached the Square; sure as hell I wouldn’t be here now telling you why I wanted to get there. Jesse was a real gentleman. “One question”, he asked of me “Why?”
“Why, Troy?” “Yeah... why?” “That’s one hell of a question... Well, sir,” I said, “One morning, a few years back, I was teaching at a small college in Ohio, when a colleague came in; a great guy; wherever he went, he brought the sun with him. You know that kind of guy; so positive – just, not that morning. Turns out, the night before, his nephew, a crack sniper on leave from Iraq, was showing his new high velocity rifle to his pa, when his pa accidentally pulled the trigger and shot his son dead”. “God damn.” “Yeah...anyway, as I listened to the tragedy of that boy’s death, I just kept thinking about his ma – wondering whether she’ll be able to lie next to her husband ever again; lie next to the man who killed her only son? That’s the problem with being a writer, Jesse - inspiration. It’s invariably won at the expense of someone else’s misery! Now I know I shouldn’t have been thinking such, artistic thoughts, at the time, Jesse, but I was” “God has his reasons” “Yeah, he sure does...”
“Anyway, years pass and I’m back in NY teaching The Trojan Women. Do you know the Trojan Women, Jesse?” “No” “No? It’s an old play about war and shit.... and it was around the time of the thousandth US casualty of our ‘Holy Crusade’, and I was thinking about little boys games and their effect upon women, when suddenly, I put the theme of that play and the shooting of that boy together and I think, ‘Adaptation!’ My little protest against these interesting times, I’ll adapt the Trojan Women and I’ll set it in a Troy, USA of today!”
“So I start Googling. I knew there was a Troy, NY State and a Troy, Michigan, but I was hoping there’d be a Troy Ohio, because Ohio’s is Winesburgh country! And you know what, Jesse, there was a God!” “Hell I know that, kid, otherwise I wouldn’t know where the hell we’re goin’!” Jesse said. “Yeah, sure, but that’s why, Sir, that’s why I want to get there; to write a play - about guns and America...” And Jesse turned to me, and said “Does Troy know you’re comin’?” And I just smiled at him, and... and by then, we’d reached the Square. So, Jesse dropped me off and promised to pick me up in a few days, and there I was, alone in the heart of Troy, heart of America; spiritual home of mac ‘n cheese and apple pie!
So, I check into the Hampton Inn and I turn on the TV and there, on the news was a story about an eight year old boy from Vandalia... turns out he’d just shot his pa dead whilst his pa was teaching him how to shoot a handgun. And, to my shame, the writer in me thought, ‘Huzzah!’ Thank god, the father in me was more redeeming, and I screamed at the TV. “Why? The 2nd amendment was only written to kill the God damn British! That was two hundred fuckin’ years ago! Ok I’m being simplistic, but that’s why there’s this gun shit. Can we move on? Can we put the gun down? Now? Because it’s already too late!” Later that evening, in a bar, across the road from the Courthouse, where the convicted shoot hoops in a caged court, there was no bluegrass, no joy; the silence took away my taste for beer. And as I walked along the Interstate back to the hotel, I looked up at the wide Ohio skies and I swear... I swear I heard the scream of a mother, and the cry of a young boy blowin’ across the plains...
c Ian Rowlands January 2013
Rowlands is a Wales based writer / director currently developing a two play project with Daniella Topol - Troyanne (see above) and Historia (a play about the reading of Troyanne). This coming Spring, Fragments of Journeys Towards the Horizon, a new text written in conjunction with Dutch dramatist, Jeroen van den Berg (a fellow International Associate at The Lark) will be presented in Ireland, Wales and the Netherlands,
During the process of developing Desire Lines at The Lark Play Development Centre in NY, I became increasingly fascinated by the role ‘rehearsed reading’ in the theatre ecology of that city (and US theatre in general). I wanted to write about the ‘Reading Hell’ that many plays get stuck in never realizing full production.
In conversation with Daniella Topol, a great NY director, she suggested a possible model for developing a play about the reading of a play – that I write the play within the play (‘B’ text) in full and that we read that with actors (without telling them that this is just a device) then take their reaction to that text and process and use that to create the ‘A’ text.
This I did, and the result is Troyanne – a play I never expected to write yet one which forced itself on to the page. I have dealt with the creation of the ‘B’ text in Biography of a Thing –the play about the reading of Troyanne (recently read in public in NY under Daniella’s direction).
I was thrilled when Chris Durnall approached me to mount a ‘bare bones’ production of Troyanne for it is a play that means a lot to me. Mostly because it is based upon the testimonies I gathered from women in Troy, Ohio. May I thank them for trusting me with their stories and Linda Lee Jolly (of the Troy Hayner Centre) for making those interviews possible). A big thanks also to Daniella Topol and the casts of NY readings that have made the play fly. I will always be in debt to The Lark Play Development Centre, NYTW and Jessie, without whom we would not have reached the Square. Thanks also to ACW for the recent Creative Wales award that will enable me to continue with the development of this twin text project. For further information and to leave comments on the work see www.documenta.org.uk