Show Synopses and Spoilers
READ WITH CAUTION! The following are full descriptions of each of our Season 14 mainstage shows. We at BETC recognize that not everyone likes to be surprised, and we acknowledge that some may be negatively triggered by certain conversations, themes, or actions. Therefore, we are providing comprehensive synopses of each play.
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
Tiny Beautiful Things
While she was awaiting publication of her memoir Wild, the writer Cheryl Strayed sent an admiring letter to an online anonymous advice column called “Dear Sugar.” The advice columnist emailed Ms. Strayed, revealed his identity as Steve Almond, and reminded her they’d met at a writers’ conference. He praised her writing, then asked if she would take over the column.
Since it was anonymous, there wouldn’t be credit. As is the case with most art, there wasn’t a paycheck. Yet Ms. Strayed decided to take on the challenges of writing an advice column. Her genuine transparency and empathy, and her insertion of personal stories within her responses, made for advice which was illuminating rather than instructional. Within months, the column became enormously popular and widely admired. A compassionate and open forum was formed by the online community that grew around it. Although Sugar’s identity remained a mystery, writing anonymously was not a motivating factor for Ms. Strayed. Instead, her goal was to share honest and heartfelt advice, unencumbered by readers’ preconceptions of who she might be.
Some of the letters were later collected in a book titled Tiny Beautiful Things, published after Wild, and both became beloved bestsellers. The text of this play is created from letters submitted and answered through the “Dear Sugar” advice column. Letters have been edited, some have been combined, and new material has been added. Although Cheryl Strayed wrote these columns over the span of two years, the play takes place in one night. The letters touch on an incredible range of subjects: love, death, sex, seasickness and miscarriages, alcoholism and child abuse, divorce and drug use, parents and children coming out, losing a parent, losing a son, finding a new lover, sexual assault and healing and recovery. The play contains adult language and situations.
The Realistic Joneses
Bob and Jennifer are suburbanites who live in a small town near the mountains. One night, they are whiling away an evening at the picnic table in their backyard, exchanging idle conversation with an undercurrent of unease. Enter from the alleyway their new neighbors, John and Pony. Pleasantries ensue.
When Bob goes in search of his glasses, Jennifer impulsively reveals the reason for their own move to the town: Bob has a degenerative disease, and a leading doctor in the field happens to live here. The treatments are experimental, and the prognosis isn’t rosy.
The next day, John runs into Jennifer at the grocery store while she’s running errands, and he’s come to fix one of the freezers. They can’t quite connect, but John can tell that Jennifer’s in pain. When John returns home to Pony, they try to get to know the area and its various tourist attractions. Nearby, Bob and Jennifer search for Bob’s missing keys and see a hot air balloon.
Pony doesn’t drink coffee but wishes that she does, and then Bob stops by to borrow some sugar but leaves before they can give it to him. Then it’s the Fourth of July, and while Jennifer and Bob watch the fireworks, Pony comes over to be neighborly and have a glass of wine. She tells them that John has fallen asleep on the lawn, and Jennifer goes over to their house to check on him. He’s awake, though, and invites her into the kitchen. He reveals that he has the same degenerative disease as her husband.
The next time Bob and John talk, we get a sense of exactly what the disease is taking away from them: the ability to connect with other humans, or to focus on any one idea for long enough to find the truth of it. Then Bob and Pony share a moment while John is out for a walk. The four of them plan to go to a fair together, but get into an argument. Then John has a neurological episode, and he and Pony go home instead. They bond as they face their deepest fears of disappearance and abandonment. The play ends where it began, in Jennifer and Bob’s back yard, after the four of them have gone out to dinner, sharing a great and quiet moment.
A Christmas Carol
Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas. He prefers to keep distant from all such occasions for human sympathy.
One cold Christmas Eve, Scrooge is rude to his nephew Fred when invited to spend Christmas with him and his lovely bride. He then refuses to give to charity when two men stop by his office to ask for donations to the poor. But most of all, Scrooge is unkind to his clerk, Bob Cratchit, who he keeps working in the cold til the very last moment of the counting-house workday.
When Scrooge gets home, he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley – and then by three ghosts! They are the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.
The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a journey through Christmases from his youth, taking Scrooge to see himself as an unhappy child and a young man more in love with money than with his fiancé.
The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge life inside his clerk’s tiny home. Scrooge sees how much love there is within this poor family, and meets Tiny Tim, who is very ill but full of spirit. The Ghost then takes him to see his nephew’s Christmas celebrations, where he overhears Fred wishing him well in spite of his own ill-humor. Scrooge even tries to take part in some of the party games.
Finally, The Ghost of Christmas Future terrifies Scrooge by showing him visions of his own death…
The ghosts’ journey through time teaches Scrooge the error of his ways. When he wakes up on Christmas Day, in his excitement, he buys the biggest turkey in the shop for the Cratchit family before spending the day with his nephew, full of the joys of Christmas.
Set against the backdrop of James Joyce’s groundbreaking modernist novel Ulysses, an American man searches for the Irish woman who first captured his heart 30 years earlier while leading a “Bloomsday” walking tour in Dublin. Told with humor, wit and heartache, this buoyant and moving new play bends time and space to explore a love affair that might have been. Bloomsday references June 16, 1904, the day in Joyce’s novel Ulysses when the central characters in the novel, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, peregrinate through Dublin and briefly encounter one another.
The play opens with 55-year-old Robert watching a 20-year-old Caithleen give the walking tour. He’s returned to Dublin in search of the woman he’s never stopped loving, to see if he can somehow turn back time and keep his younger self from losing her. Somehow, though, the young Caithleen can see him too, and time stops behaving like it should. Robert warns her that her favorite shop Finnerty’s is out of her favorite rolls, and that his younger self Robbie will be on her next tour and she should break his heart utterly. She ignores him and leaves to meet up with her boyfriend Davey.
When 20-year-old Robbie appears, Robert has a brief conversation with his younger self, as they try to figure out where they are and how they got there. Robert leaves him in frustration and jealousy, but just as Robbie is about to continue his search for the young Caithleen, 55-year-old Cait appears. She feeds him a roll from Finnerty’s and tells him the story of a bakery boy she once loved, that she knew she could never be with because of her ability to know when time was shifting. Robbie doesn’t understand her story, and he rushes off in search of Caithleen just before she appears to Cait. Even at her tender age, Caithleen gains a deep understanding of the woman she’s about to start becoming. Cait warns her she’ll also be committed to the asylum at St Brendan’s one day, but that she’ll also be released on Bloomsday.
Act Two takes place on Bloomsday. Robbie joins Caithleen’s tour, while Robert starts talking the other tourists out of leaving the walking tour, until only Robbie and Caithleen remain. They share a wonderful lunch together, but just as they are about to kiss, Cait appears briefly, ruining the moment. Caithleen slaps him for ruining her tour and runs off. Then Robert confronts Robbie, and begs him to go after her and take his one chance at love. Robbie does go and find her. This time they do kiss, as Cait enters. She and Caithleen are in one time and all times, in the present and in the future and in the memory of that first kiss. Caithleen promises to go get her suitcase and come with Robbie, and they are frozen in the moment of that potential change in their story. Then Robert enters, and sees Cait. Cait moves Caithleen away from Robbie, away from that path toward a future she’ll never have. Then Robert wakes Robbie and sends him out the door. Robert and Cait have a pint together, as Robbie and Caithleen find each other in a way they never have before.
Act One opens in Oslo, Norway. It is March 1993. Terje Rød-Larsen and Mona Juul are hosting a dinner party at their flat with Johan Jørgan Holst, Mona’s boss, and his wife, Marianne Heiberg, who works with Terje. Terje is telling a story, buttering up Holst, who is taking office of Foreign Minister tomorrow. Terje tells Holst that he could affect real political change, perhaps even in the Middle East, where the US is failing miserably in their peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Holst tells Terje he’s crazy, that the two sides will never agree and moreover, that none of them have any power in the situation.
Then, two simultaneous telephones ring. Mona and Terje beg their guests to keep silent. Terje passes coded information between the two callers, one of whom is audibly angry. After hanging up, Terje reveals that the callers were representatives of the State of Israel and the PLO. Johan rebukes them both as having no authority to facilitate such secret conversations, and forbids them to continue. Mona reveals how she and Terje met and fell in love, and the importance of the philosophy of Gradualism in international relations, focusing on solving one problem at a time.
The story moves us backward and forward in time through years of multinational negotiations, introducing a cast of Israeli and Palestinian characters including Yossi Beilin, Shimon Peres’ right-hand man, and Ahmed Qurie, the Finance Minister of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. After Qurie meets with Israeli economist Yair Hirschfeld, and the two connect through academic papers, Hirschfeld meets with Beilin, and Qurie wins the approval of the PLO leader himself, Yasser Arafat.
With both leaders’ willingness to create a secret channel for negotiations in place, Mona and Terje arrange for the Fafo Institute to bring Israeli and Palestinian “academics” to Norway for a “conference.” Language is extremely important: these are not “negotiations” or “talks”, and
America will be casually notified the conference will be taking place. Terje promises Mona he will facilitate only, not interfere.
In January 1993, the unofficial channel of state communications opens. When four men meet in Oslo- Qurie and Hassan Asfour as Palestinian representatives, Hirschfeld and Ron Pundak as voices of the Israelis- their back room negotiations occur only among them. Terje plays host, seeing to it that the men build personal relationships in order to see each other for whom they truly are. His housekeeper, Toril, makes unforgettable waffles that break the tension when the men get to telling off-color jokes. The men create a Declaration of Principles among themselves, to take back to their leaders.
A second round of meetings takes place, then a third. But for the results to bear any weight, the meetings must become official, and direct representatives of the Ministries of the states must become involved. At the end of Act One, we have made our way back to the play’s opening scene, as Mona and Terje inform Foreign Minister Holst of the existence of these secret negotiations, which he instantly forbids.
Act Two begins in the Hotel Bristol bar in Oslo, where Holst discovers that the Palestinians have also looped in the Jordanians to the existence of this “back channel” of negotiations. Holst begins to set conditions for the continuance of the secret negotiations, but Qurie demands that Larsen continue to manage the meetings.
Two weeks later, the Israelis agree to “upgrade” the negotiations so that Uri Savir, the General of the Foreign Ministry, will participate. Meanwhile, the American diplomat reveals that he’s aware of the existence of the secret backchannel. When Savir arrives, at the personal request and as the voice of Shimon Peres, he faces off with Qurie, the voice of Yassir Arafat. The
Norwegian security detail (Trond and Thor) join the hospitality team. Savir is delighted on his first night of negotiations, as a second leak about the channel springs in a local paper.
On the second day of negotiations, the Palestinians and Israelis begin discussion of the Declaration of Principles. Savir and Qurie negotiate to a version they both take back to their officials. Joel Singer examines it from within the Israeli foreign ministry, then goes to visit Larsen himself and join the negotiations in Oslo. Singer and Qurie negotiate through another two hundred questions as Savir and Asfour witness, but Hirschfeld and Pundak are exiled outside the room.
The document that results is an unacceptable version of the DOP, and the four men go back to work again, at Mona’s urging, as she asks them to stay in the room and find a way forward. They emerge with a new draft, which Mona and Johan Jurgen take to Jerusalem and read to Arafat themselves. His approval indicates that the PLO concessions are real, reassuring the Israeli operatives. Shimon Peres himself approves a final round of negotiations, and takes part as Arafat speaks through intermediaries over the phone. Then both sides accept the document.
13 September 1993: One hour before the signing, the treaty is almost scuttled when the Israelis discover the word “Palestine” has been replaced throughout the document with “PLO”. As Peres and Rabin are on the brink of refusing to sign, the American diplomat forces their participation, and the Oslo Peace Accords are signed in the White House Rose Garden.