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New audio recording – “Last Night Before”

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Presenting another short scene from elsewhere in the Mrs. Hawking timeline, recorded for your listening pleasure by our amazing cast!

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I really enjoy depicting the relationships between the characters, particularly when it’s a character I don’t get to work with often in the main stories. I absolutely love the character of Justin Hawking, but I don’t know if he’ll ever get to show back up in the stage series. In the meantime, I like playing around with the backstory that involves him, as it’s always guaranteed to have that blend of humor and pathos that I love. Even though these recordings are made very informally, I’m always impressed with the actors ability to adapt their performances to whatever stage of development their characters are in any given piece. You can definitely hear that these are a significantly younger Nathaniel and Justin, which helps ground this moment in the course of their journeys.

This is “Last Night Before,” by Phoebe Roberts, taking place just before Nathaniel and Clara’s wedding, when the two brothers are out celebrating. It features Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel Hawking and Christian Krenek as Justin Hawking.

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When character moments are earned

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Categories: character, development, gilded cages, Tags: , ,

Scene 1.4 of Gilded Cages represents a striking landmark in my growth as a writer– specifically, the first half, where Mary and Nathaniel are cleaning out the Colonel’s study and he tells the story of how he and Clara met. I love it, and am proud of it, for a lot of reasons.

Photo by Steve Karpf

Firstly, it may be the most purely character-focused scene in any of the Hawking plays to that point. I am of the school of narrative design that holds that “Plots reveals character”— your figures are confronted by events and how they react to those events allows them to demonstrate who they are. I like this approach because it keeps the narrative structured and engaging while still fostering the development of character. You’ll notice that the majority of the Hawking stories are built according to this idea.

However, I’ve historically had a problem with being so focused on plot that very little character ever gets to happen outside of the unfolding. It has a tendency to give the stories a hurried feel, as if there’s just no time for anything that’s not forward movement. Years ago I wrote about this, my fear of just letting my characters be my characters without actively pursuing plot. It’s out of my concern for things becoming boring or self-indulgent, presenting moments that are shoehorned in and of no interest to anyone but me. But the character journeys ARE the point, not an afterthought; getting to know these people and see where they go is the heart of the story.

So this scene, the first half of 1.4, was me making an effort to insert something purely about character and have it feel like it meaningfully contributed to the story, rather than be a pointless indulgence. I actually feel like I accomplished it. It teaches you a lot about the characters, and it’s engaging! By part IV, if I haven’t made you care about these characters and interested in them for their own sake, then I think I haven’t done my job right. So I can count on having won the audience’s attention for just watching characters they like be themselves and tell us a little more about them. By part IV, that time and attention spent is earned.

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And I do think it tells us a lot of great stuff about them. It showcases Mary and Nathaniel’s friendship, how close and comfortable they’ve become with each other, that they share cute and funny personal anecdotes and talk about romantic relationships. It’s long been part of Circe Rowan’s process that Mary is a reader of fairy-stories, and is enthralled by tales of romance and adventure, and you see it in the way she reacts to Nathaniel’s story. And Nathaniel’s funny, self-deprecating retelling adds a lot of humanity and levity to the play. I am amused by the implication that Justin’s been getting the best of Nathaniel since they were children, but this one instance little brother beat out big, in a romantic exploit no less, and Nathaniel’s never quite gotten over a little smugness over it. And one of my regrets about all of part IV was that I wasn’t able to find a place for Clara in the cast. Nathaniel talking about falling in love with her is a cute way to make her presence felt.

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It’s helped a lot by the performances. Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel is incredibly charismatic, and his warmth, humor, and gentle self-effacement give everything he does a certain charm. And Circe Rowan’s Mary has this wide-eyed, enthusiastic quality as she giggles over her friend’s funny and romantic story, that I think sets the tone for the reaction of the audience.
And you know what? I did manage to loop it back into the larger narrative, as Mary’s asking because she’s trying to figure out how to navigate her own budding relationship with Arthur. So not only does it really give a moment where the characters are simply being themselves, it ultimately leads to a moment that does further the plot. If that’s not the perfect way to balance the best of both worlds, I don’t know what is.

It’s a real triumph for me as a writer who’s constantly trying to develop and grow my skills. To see what I mean, join us for th 6pm performance of Gilded Cages on Saturday, May 12th at the Watch City Steampunk Festival and catch it in action from our amazing cast.

Mrs. Hawking part III: Base Instruments and part IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively on Saturday, May 12th at the New England School of Photography at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’18.

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




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Extra scenes – a funny and touching recording of brothers Nathaniel and Justin

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We have another scene made into an audio recording! This time, it’s another moment from earlier in our story’s timeline, a follow up of sorts to “True Gentlemen,” the previous scene we recorded like this.

This scene, “Enough to Compare,” was written as the capper to my 2017 foray in 31 Plays in 31 Days, and features Justin finally finding out that Nathaniel and Clara have begun a relationship. It’s much more humorous in tone than our previous scene— as anything with Justin tends to be! —but it also aims to capture some of the more touching emotional quality that comes from drama between close family members. One of the reasons I particularly enjoy writing scenes between these two characters is because they are both in constant conflict, while simultaneously caring about each other a great deal. It gives a great opportunity for a combination of humor and pathos& dash; one of my favorite ways to tell stories.

 

As I mentioned with the last one, these scenes are a little rough and the recordings are very informal. But these scene particularly makes me smile, and Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel and Christian Krenek as Justin are delightful. So check this out for a laugh and a warm fuzzy feeling, and to learn a little bit more about the greater Hawking story. And if you enjoy their performances, catch Jeremiah as Nathaniel and Christian as Justin in our shows at Arisia 2018!

 

Mrs. Hawking parts III: Base Instruments and IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts are to be performed January 12th-14th as part of Arisia 2018 at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

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Extra scenes — quick recording of “True Gentleman” with Nathaniel and Clara

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BI Performance-8
 

By this point, I’ve been noodling around with stories set in the Mrs. Hawking continuity for several years now. It’s fun to explore these characters beyond just what makes it into the plays, plus it’s helpful for me to know where they’re going if I know where they came from. And I think it can be really interesting to learn the histories of the characters you’ve gotten to know over the course of the series!

A lot of these scenes and moments will never make it into plays. Either they’re from outside the times we’re dealing with, or just don’t fit into the important dramatic moments the full-length shows focus on. But there’s still drama and interest in a lot of these scenes, and I’d like to be able to feature them somehow!

To that end, I’m doing little informal recordings of them, with the actors who play these characters in the full-length shows. The scenes are a little unpolished, and not a lot of rehearsal will go into them. But I think they can be fun little treats for people who have gotten to know the characters of this series and would like to see a little more from them!

The first of these is a staged reading of “True Gentleman,” a scene I wrote from the courtship of Nathaniel and Clara. We know they’re married by the time the shows begin in 1880, and references to their history together have been made. But I thought it might be cute to do a small scene from the beginning of their romantic relationship.

So here’s “True Gentleman,” featuring Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel and Sara Smith as Clara. Enjoy!

 

And if you liked that, be sure to come see Jeremiah and Sara on stage as these characters at Arisia 2018 in Base Instruments and Gilded Cages!

Mrs. Hawking parts III: Base Instruments and IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts are to be performed January 12th-14th as part of Arisia 2018 at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

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“I Saw Three Ships” – a Mrs. Hawking holiday scene

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I don’t know where this came from. It’s a little seasonally-appropriate Hawking scene popped into my head tonight, and I scribbled it down in a few minutes just for amusement’s sake. It’s probably never going to fit into any of the plays, but it was an opportunity for some cute character moments, and one really fun line. It’s nice to see them just in a low-stakes character moment that’s purely fun and sweet, rather than all mired in drama.

It made me smile; I hope it does you too. 😁

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“Three Ships”
From the Mrs. Hawking series
By Phoebe Roberts

MARY STONE, housemaid and apprentice society avenger
VICTORIA HAWKING, society avenger and her mentor
NATHANIEL HAWKING, her nephew and assistant

London, England – December, 1884
~~~

(MARY dusts in the parlor, humming the Christmas carol “I Saw Three Ships.” MRS. HAWKING enters to choose a book from the shelf, then exits. MARY begins softly singing.)

MARY: (singing) I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She glances after MRS. HAWKING to make sure she’s gone. Then she goes and gets a flour sack containing a garland of evergreen with holly berries. She holds it up and dances around with it a little, singing louder now.)

MARY: (singing) Wither sailed those ships all three, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day? Wither sailed those ships all three, on Christmas Day in the morning?

(She begins to string up the garland over the mantlepiece and along the parlor wall.)

MARY: (singing) And they sailed into Bethlehem, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. And they sailed into Bethlehem,, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She dances around the room.)

MARY: (singing) And all the bells on earth shall ring, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. And all the bells on earth shall ring, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She dips and twirls, singing at the top of her voice. Without her noticing, NATHANIEL enters, and he hangs back watching her with a smile on his face.)

MARY: (singing) Then let us all rejoice again, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day! Then let us all rejoice again on Christmas Day in the morning!

(As she belts out the last note, she spins around to see MRS. HAWKING reenter frowning. She crosses back to the bookshelf, glaring at MARY’s decorating as she goes. She snatches a book off the shelf.)

MRS. HAWKING: Bethlehem is landlocked.

(She exits. MARY turns sheepishly and sees NATHANIEL standing behind her, grinning. After a moment, he takes up the last verse and she joins him.)

BOTH: I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day! I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning!

(They break off together, doubled over into laughter.)

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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“True Gentleman” – a scene of Nathaniel and Clara in back story

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I have a pretty good idea of the shape of the Hawking stories to come, most of which will be about exploring how our heroes grow and develop into the future of their team. Every now and then, though, I find myself imaging how things went in their back stories, moments that probably won’t feature in the plays but helped shaped the characters that we know them as today.

This scene written during my completion of 31 Plays in 31 Days 2016 deals with an idea I’m surprised I’ve never noodled with before. One little character bit in the Hawking stories that I enjoy is the fact that Clara and Nathaniel met through Nathaniel’s older brother Justin, because Clara dated Justin before she and Nathaniel got together. Their mild romantic history is alluded to in Base Instruments; it was Bernie’s idea and he pushed to include it. Basically, as they are the same age (three years older than Nathaniel) they came out in the same year, and so met while attending the same parties. They courted for a little while, until Clara got fed up with his interest in other girls and broke it off. She and Nathaniel got together gradually after that.

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This little scene is from five or so years before the first Mrs. Hawking play, and depicts how their relationship began to change into something that would lead to falling in love, getting married, and having a couple of babies.

“True Gentleman”
By Phoebe Roberts

NATHANIEL HAWKING, a young gentleman, early twenties
CLARA PARTRIDGE, a lady his brother courted, mid twenties

London, England, 1875
~~~
(A twenty-three-year-old CLARA PARTRIDGE dashes in and paces, fuming with the beginnings of tears in her eyes. After her comes a twenty-year-old NATHANIEL HAWKING. Both are in evening wear.)

NATHANIEL: I say, Clara! Are you— are you all right?

CLARA: Why, Nathaniel! What are you doing here?

NATHANIEL: Pardon me, but I saw you dash out of the ballroom, and worried something might wrong. When Justin didn’t go after you, I thought someone ought to.

CLARA: Well! That’s very kind of you. Justin shan’t be following after me, not if he knows what’s good for him.

NATHANIEL: Whatever do you mean?

CLARA: I mean I don’t think I shall be seeing so very much of Justin anymore.

NATHANIEL: You mean— oh!

CLARA: Yes, well.

NATHANIEL: I— I’m quite sorry. He hasn’t— done anything ungentlemanly, has he?

CLARA: He’s Justin, isn’t he?

NATHANIEL: That prat. What’s he done?

CLARA: Oh, never you mind.

NATHANIEL: If he’s hurt you, miss—

CLARA: Oh, you know him! It’s only that he has a wandering eye. One grows weary of feeling like the plainest girl in the room.

NATHANIEL: Goodness, Clara, you could never be that!

CLARA: Oh, my.

NATHANIEL: I mean— forgive me, but— as you said, that’s his way. It’s no fault of yours that he’s an absolute rake.

CLARA: Perhaps not. But I’ve no patience for it any more.

NATHANIEL: Nor should you.

CLARA: I only hope I haven’t made a perfect fool of myself. Losing my calm with him and dashing out of the ballroom for everyone to see. Certainly I’ve ruined the last dance.

NATHANIEL: Not at all. I’m sure no one paid it any mind.

CLARA: You did. You had to run out here after to me.

NATHANIEL: Well— I hated the thought that you might be alone in your distress.

CLARA: Thank you for that. It’s quite kind.

NATHANIEL: Think nothing of it, miss. And, please… never think that my blasted brother’s conduct means you’re not beautiful. If I may say so… I don’t know how any man courting you could look away from you.

CLARA: Why, Nathaniel…

NATHANIEL: Oh, that was dreadfully impertinent. Now you think I’m just as much a rake as he is.

CLARA: Not at all. Quite the contrary… you are a true gentleman, Nathaniel Hawking.

NATHANIEL: It means a great deal that you’d think so. Is there anything else I can do?

CLARA: You’ve been a great comfort to me tonight. Indeed, I think I shall be presentable to return. You ought to go out and enjoy the rest of the ball. You’re shipping out soon for your tour of service, aren’t you?

NATHANIEL: If you can call it that. They’re sending me to Newcastle, of all places.

CLARA: Sounds as though you’re in for an adventure.

NATHANIEL: Indeed, fighting off boredom as I keep the logbooks.

CLARA: They’ll make a soldier of you yet. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I had best find a place to freshen up. I’d like to make my return more dignified than my exit.

NATHANIEL: Certainly, miss.

(He bows and turns to go. Just before he exits, he turns back around.)

NATHANIEL: Miss, since it will be so dreadfully dull away in the armory, it would be very cheering to hear a word from home now and again. When I have a moment, might I write you? Some letters might be just the way to pass the time.

CLARA: I would like that, Nathaniel.

(He smiles, then bows again and exits. She watches him go with a new interest.)

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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Finished draft of Base Instruments!

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I am pleased to announce that Base Instruments, part three of the Mrs. Hawking series, has a complete draft!

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I had some friends over to read it, as I love to do when evaluating a play, and the response was great. Now I have a direction for the edit! Thanks to Jane Becker, Charlotte Brewer, Matthew Kamm, Tegan Kehoe, and Samantha LeVangie for their great feedback! The stuff I need to fix isn’t huge, fortunately, but it will require some deft tweaking in order to improve, and that level of subtlety will be challenging. And hearing the whole piece together means I learned some interesting things about this new installment of the story.

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel

Base Instruments turned out to be very much Nathaniel’s play. It wasn’t exactly intentional, but with so many of his close family members featuring, it was only natural that he would end up being the most central character. Even though I want the series to mostly belong to Mary and Mrs. Hawking, it became clear in the writing of the previous two plays that Nathaniel was going to serve as the third lead. And since those first two dealt with the two of them primarily, it was all right if Nathaniel came to the forefront by piece three. Not only does he have the most stage time, his arc plays out with more characters than anyone else’s. I like to think he’s getting really developed.

Justin, Nathaniel’s brother, proved to be very charismatic, as I hoped he would be! Similarly to Clara in Vivat Regina, he was the cool new character Base Instruments added to the cast. I’ve become very devoted to the idea that these pieces need comic relief to balance the drama, and both he and Clara brought some of the lightest moments of wit and humor. I don’t know how often he’ll be able to come back, given the direction the series will take from here, but it will be a real shame if I don’t figure out how to fit him in again.

In fact, the structure of the play changed in an interesting way because of the expansion of the world in this manner. While the two previous installments mostly just followed around Mrs. Hawking and Mary, mostly together, Base Instruments had enough threads going on that its scenes skip back and forth between them. It gives the story a breadth and texture, allowing a much more complex series of events to happen, with a more careful pacing as the threads break each other up. And frankly? It’s pretty damn cool that one of the most engaging scenes in the play happens between two secondary characters, one who’ve we’ve only just met in this piece. That can only be possible when the world and its dynamics are very rich.

My plan is to dig into the edit and get it done in the next few weeks. After that I’d like to have a second reading, to make sure the changes improved and tightened things. Then it will be posted here on the website, and I can truly say I’m completed the first trilogy in the Mrs. Hawking saga!

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“What If I Don’t Want To?” — early drafting of Mary’s arc for Base Instruments

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Categories: base instruments, development, scenes, themes, Tags: , , ,

I find that the overall plot of Base Instruments, which is a mystery, is proving to be hard to nail down. I’m very close now, though it certainly could still change as I test how everything works. The other day I worked out an important aspect of it through drawing a diagram and moving coins around on it that represented where the characters were at various points in the story. Proud of myself for figuring that out!

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I wrote this snippet for Base Instruments as part of 31 Plays in 31 Days 2014. I got the major themes and journeys hammered out pretty quickly, so here's something, getting at the idea that as much as Mary wants to be Mrs. Hawking's protege, she may not be ready for everything Mrs. Hawking's going to expect. This will be Mary’s major struggle for the piece.

What If I Don’t Want To?
By Phoebe Roberts

MARY STONE, Mrs. Hawking’s maid and protégé
NATHANIEL HAWKING, Mrs. Hawking’s gentleman nephew

London, England, 1883
~~~

MARY: Did you know that Mrs. Hawking studied ballet when she was young?

NATHANIEL: Is that so? I'd no idea, how interesting.

MARY: Apparently she once considered making a career of it.

NATHANIEL: Oh, really? Was she any good, then?

MARY: I don't know. But doesn't that surprise you?

NATHANIEL: I quite honestly don’t believe there’s anything she couldn’t do if she cared to. Why, does it you?

MARY: It’s, well… Mrs. Hawking doesn't often like things for their own sake, now, does she?

NATHANIEL: She doesn't like much of anything.

MARY: That's not what I mean. Everything's to a point with her. She practices skills to hone her craft. She studies facts in case it might serve her to know them. For goodness sake, she only reads for the points of reference. To think of her dancing for only the love of it… why, it's entirely new.

NATHANIEL: Goodness. I think I see what you mean.

MARY: Do you think… she’s always been that way?

NATHANIEL: I’m hard pressed to imagine her before she was so bitter.

MARY: It could have been that. Or… do you think she’s found it necessary? For her work, I mean. To care for nothing but that which serves her purpose because that’s the only way she’s capable of accomplishing the enormous things she accomplishes?

NATHANIEL: Goodness, I hope not. I mean to be of help to her, but I couldn’t bear to live as she does. Devoting herself to nothing but her work.

MARY: What if that’s what it takes?

NATHANIEL: Well, then I haven’t got it. I’ve a family, for heaven’s sake, and a hobby or two I’d care to pursue.

(He laughs, but MARY sits very quietly, eyes wide.)

NATHANIEL: Are you quite all right?

MARY: What if I haven’t got it either?

NATHANIEL: Oh, Mary. I’m sure you too can do anything you want to. If you put your mind to it, I’m sure you could become as honed and dedicated as she is.

MARY: No, Nathaniel… what if I don’t want to?

8/3/14

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Costume interviews with Jenn Giorno – the menswear

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Categories: character, mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: , , , , ,

Did you admire the lovely Victorian costuming in our production of Mrs. Hawking? It was the work of Jennifer Giorno, our primary designer and the actress who portrayed Grace Monroe, and my very dear friend. She, like me, believes very strongly in the power of costuming to help tell the story and define the characters.

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I had the chance to sit down with Jenn and ask her how she approached the fairly challenging task of emulating historical fashions on a tight budget that had to stand up to the rigors and quick changing of theater. She had some fascinating things to say about the process, on a wide variety of costuming issues! So I’ll be breaking it into parts, and today’s section will be on one of my favorites, the menswear!

The menswear of Mrs. Hawking was designed after the very regimented styles worn in Victorian England. There was a separate uniform for respectable gentlemen’s daywear, the morning and frock suits, and eveningwear, the white and black tie tuxedos. It’s a very visually recognizable style, so it would be clear if we did it wrong. Given that we were working mostly with found, borrowed, and thrifted items, it’s amazing just how dapper our gentlemen turned out!

2.2. "Why, yes, sounds a capital idea."

Phoebe: “What do you like about Victorian menswear?”

Jenn: “I love frock coats, I love mourning coats. If men still wore morning coats as as everyday thing, I’d just be so distracted, always! Because I love the cut, even more then regular tails.”

P: “We got that in there, with Nathaniel!”

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel

J: “Yep! It’s so sleek, it’s so good-looking. For me, one of the important things was distinguishing the high-class characters from the low-class ones, or the ones who were pretending to it. So Colchester is a trumped up thug with delusions of grandeur. He wears a bowler hat, which isn’t quite the thing, but it’s close enough to being the thing, so that’s what he goes to. And his coat, it’s a little bit shapeless, but it’s still a nice coat.”

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

P: “We joked that Brian made it look too good!”

J: “Yeah! But it definitely looked less crisp than all the other men. And in this performance we had him half-untucked. And in he’s not wearing a vest or tie at all, which really speaks to his low-class.

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Jordan Greeley as Sir Walter Grainger

“And with Grainger, it was subtler. He’s technically nobility, but he’s country, so he wears a lovely waistcoat, but his evening suit and shirt aren’t quite as nice and don’t fit quite as well. We even have him in a scene where he’s a little unbuttoned. So with the men, it was trying to be accurate, but getting color choices that spoke to the characters, and making the subtle class distinctions.

“Nathaniel’s looks, his daywear is gray, his eveningwear is black and silver. It speaks to him as a proper, clean-cut character. It says he wants to make a good impression and for people to like him.”

2.3. "Am I to take it that you've been going out on these... ventures... for some time now?"

P: “And to our modern eyes, I think it gives off signals that we can interpret as that he’s a good dresser. I’ve always thought Nathaniel cared about fashion, he’s interested in it and keeps up with it.”

2.5. Badass disarm.

J: “Yes, it’s important that Nathaniel, and Brockton as well, come off as a good dresser.”

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

“Brockton’s also showier about it. It’s part of his persona as the blackmailer. He likes to flaunt his power, and his dress is one of the ways he does it. The daywear in gold and black, and the nightwear in red and black. High class, but also a little sinister.”

Andrew Prentice as Ensemble

Andrew Prentice as Ensemble

“We didn’t go with proper white tie, even though that would have been appropriate. It would have had them basically all looking like penguins! That just would have been too generic. We wanted those flashes of color in there from their vests and cravats. It adds texture and speaks to their personalities.”

I’m with Jenn; I love men in sharp suits and eveningwear. It added so much to the visual impact of our male characters to have them dressed so sharply.

2.2. "What ho, gentlemen! I was hoping I might interest everyone in a game of cards."

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Our heroes’ chosen family

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It takes a few stories to get there, but I want to make it clear that the relationship that is building between our three leads is one of chosen family. This is a concept that a lot of our audience finds very resonant, as the ability to choose to surround oneself with those people one loves gives many people a lot of strength. That’s the feeling I want to capture between Mary, Mrs. Hawking, and Nathaniel as their relationships form and grow.

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Frances Kimpel and Circe Rowan rehearse. “I shall be frank. I’ve no idea what to do with you.”

Family in the traditional sense is a contentious concept for these characters. Mary’s mother and father were too wrapped up in their own problems to pay much attention to her beyond expecting her to make herself useful. She tries not to hold it against them, but she they never made her feel like she mattered. For Mrs. Hawking, family is the chain that keeps her tied to her husband’s people, between whom there is a mutual disapproval and dislike. And her father, the only blood relation she ever knew, is probably the person she hated most in the world. Nathaniel is the only one among them with a positive relationship to his family, but because of it, it is important to him that he can extend the definition of that world to include all the people he cares for most.

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Jeremiah O’Sullivan reheasing Nathaniel. “Am I to understand you’ve been going out on these… ventures… for some time now?”

The idea that deep bonds could form between these sorts of people are not expected in this culture. A mistress and her servant, an aunt and her nephew by marriage, a wealthy gentleman and the house girl? Not people who are expected to grow close and come to love each other. But each of them finds themselves drawn to one another as their particular emotional needs and the extraordinary experiences they share make them the only possible people who could fill those roles to each other. They are, after all, becoming partners in a dangerous and secret enterprise. They can’t tell other people what they do. They can’t talk about it with anyone else. They’re in this alone together, and that can’t help but make ties. So we find ourselves observing a very unconventional sort of brother and sister doing their best to win the approval of a very complicated mother figure.

Make no mistake, I am not trying to cast Mrs. Hawking in a “maternal” light. It is pretty firmly established that is not part of who she is, and that a great part of her struggle in society is seeking the freedom to be able to cast that notion off. But she and Mary come to fill each other’s respective voids in that sense. Mary never had a strong female role model who cared for her and wanted to teach her to come into her own, while Mrs. Hawking never had a person for whom she wanted to protect or held shape into the next generation.

As for Nathaniel, he may have an okay relationship with his real dad, but the father figure who he connected to much more strongly was his uncle the Colonel. Their bond led him to want a connection with Mrs. Hawking as well, the person his uncle loved most in the world. And it’s important enough that he’s willing to work for it. The way he and Mary so desperately seek her esteem makes it clear the light that they see her in.

The last relationship is Mary and Nathaniel, perhaps the most unexpected of all for their time and place. As shared struggle creates connections, the work it takes to adapt to the new challenges of heroic life make a friendship grow, as well as the fact that they don’t have many people in their lives they can be frank about their feeling with. It almost makes me sad to think of when people will inevitably slash the characters as fandom is wont to do, because romance is importantly not part of this. Their connection comes from a mutual reliance and respect that does not require attraction or demand to be maintained, nor can it be broken even in times of strife. Your family is always your family, and they become the brother and sister that neither of them ever had.

Each leg of the triangle forms for its own reasons, but the connections make them a family. The people who love you the most, and are capable of hurting you most, with all the support and conflict that any family has.

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 7th as part of the 2016 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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