This Sunday we had rehearsal for the staged reading of the ten-minute play Like a Loss at Bare Bones 16: At War. As I’ve mentioned, Like a Loss is unique in that it’s the only time up to this point in the story that the Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking ever actually appears onstage. I like the opportunity this gives for the audience to fill in certain blanks, to compare what they observe of the man themselves to the disparate viewpoints taken of him by other characters.
This piece stars the Colonel as well his longtime personal valet Henry Chapman, who in having served him for so many years through so many adventures has become his good friend. What makes the piece interesting is that it depicts a rare moment of emotional exploration between two gentlemen who do not often discuss such things under any context. They are Victorian gentlemen, of a culture that keeps these things to themselves. They are master and servant, and while closer than many, there is a level of formality and distance that makes such things off-limits. And finally, the Colonel is in the very delicate position of having pretty much every single person he’s close to in a total state of confusion as to why he married such a difficult, disagreeable woman. His family hates her, and Chapman thinks she’s unforgivably cruel to him; none of them see in her what the Colonel sees. Even among all the other factors, that in particular makes it so the Colonel has no one safe to talk to about what he’s currently struggling with. But Chapman cares about his master a great deal, and is taking this opportunity to try and address the pain that the Colonel is so clearly in.
This was a great opportunity for me as a writer, as it demanded effective use of subtext, which is always hard for me. It also presents a particular challenge to our actors, Brad Smith as the Colonel and Eboracum Richter-Dahl as Henry Chapman, his faithful batman and valet. They must convey to the audience just the depth and significance of the emotional moments while maintaining that superficial even keel. It was fascinating to watch them manage those moments, to bring levels that required a huge amount of nuance to read through their guarded, civil attitudes. Like Nathaniel, I always pictured the Colonel to maintain that particular variety of never-say-die British cheer, which is strongly at odds with the difficulty he’s going through in this piece– and Chapman is seeing right through it while politely pretending he isn’t. Brad and Eboracum did a beautiful job illustrating what is actually an extremely tragic story, that of a man who loved of a woman who utterly lacked the capacity to love him back, and of how completely without meaning to they ended up ruining each other’s lives.
The moment depicted in this particular piece alludes to lots of story we’ve yet to see. One thing we do know for sure is that the marriage of Colonel and Mrs. Hawking was extremely fraught. But there’s a great deal of lead-up before it reaches the state it was in when the Colonel died, one year before “Mrs. Hawking” opens. This piece hits at some of those stages it passed through, how they may not always have been as completely at odds as they ended up, how their conflict evolved from friendly opposition to directionless anger and ultimately to the chilly distance that was the final straw in breaking Reginald’s heart.
Someday we’ll tell that whole story. In fact, I’d like to detail the journey of how Victoria and Reginald met and married in what I’m planning to be the fourth full-length installment, after the upcoming Base Instruments. But for now, we only get a glimpse at another point in that timeline, here right after a major downward turn, in the the tragedy of the man who had the terrible misfortune to fall in love with our distant, damaged hero.
Come join us for our one-night only performance as the opener of Bare Bones 16: At War for piece, The Wheel, written by Zinnie Harris and directed by Jess Viator, on Thursday, March 26th, 2015 at 8pm at Unity Somerville, at 6 William Street, Somerville, MA.