September 10, 2020
A chilly drizzle sprinkles discomfort over our Black Lives Matter evening vigil. The number of people taking a knee since late May has shriveled to five. My meditation wanders from the horror of Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pinching George Floyd’s neck to whether—or why—we should keep this going. Gone are the halcyon summer days with dozens of kneelers, a parade of encouraging car horns, accolades from people of color, spontaneous applause. Summer’s collective energy has morphed into quiet persistence. The few souls who remain have incorporated 8:46 of public silence into our daily routine.
Our vigil might be the smallest in the Boston area, but it also might be the longest lasting. We bear witness every night. Because keeping injustice in the public eye is one small compass point in the spectrum of change. We don’t know which passersby we might influence. We are not supposed to know. We witness because it is the right thing for us to do. For our own fortitude. And because we trust that seeds of change germinate from bearing witness.
An elderly couple, a female couple, and me. All regulars. Not exactly friends, though each night our after-vigil conversations (masked and socially distanced) grow longer, more personal. During a pandemic in which prudence requires we remain apart from most everyone, I welcome our shared meditation, our after-knee encouragements. I doubt I would kneel alone, but as long as one or more neighbors come to the guardrail, I will join them.
A pick-up truck stops along the curb: very big; very new. It’s not uncommon for people to pull over; the odd intersection of one-ways where Huron Ave meets Fountain Terrace requires some people to double check reference points. The driver rolls down his window. Also not uncommon. People sometimes feel the need to talk with us, though we generally remain silent in response. He unloads venom in words I don’t print in this blog. Unusual, but not unique. Hecklers are emboldened when our numbers are small and their vehicles so protective. We don’t enjoy being yelled at, but there’s no actual threat. The driver remains in his seat of horsepower, and as soon as my timer sounds, 8:46 complete, he revs away.
I watch him roar off and I ponder our futile non-interaction. What if the driver remained? What if we talked? Really talked. Could we transcend our stereotypical roles of affluent elite and angry young man? Is there any connection, however slender, to begin to bridge the chasm between us?
That event actually happened. And it inspired me to conceive a different ending. To prompt the kneeler to speak up. To prompt the heckler out of his truck. To sit them down on a porch and drink a few beers. To stop seeing each other as ideological opposites, but as actual human beings. To seek out common ground.
The result is Sons of Liberty, an 80-minute, adult-themed, two-person play that takes place on a front porch in real time. Peter, an intellectually obtuse engineer, cajoles reluctant Daryl, an army vet and postal carrier, to his porch. They exchange predictable tropes of right versus left, educated elite versus working class bloke, until commonalities—the New England Patriots, the residue of divorce—scratch their antitheses. As their conversation ranges from political rant to personal revelation, the men oscillate between mutual distrust and reluctant acknowledgement. Their connection fuses when they discover related heroes. Daryl is a Revolutionary War reenactor in the thrall of fiery Sam Adams, while Peter is a student of Samuel’s hyper-rational cousin, John. The ability of two Founding Fathers with such disparate temperaments to collaborate toward a shared objective offers guidance for these two men to become, if not quite friends, mutually respectful citizens.
Since September 10, I have written several drafts of Sons of Liberty, workshopped the play with two sets of Boston-area actors, and shared it with a number of local and national theater groups. I am currently seeking opportunities for virtual readings or workshops, with an eye toward an actual live staging (someday soon?). The script is available on the National New Play Network, though I am also happy to share a .pdf directly.
Please contact me if you’re interested in reading Sons of Liberty, or if you know anyone or any group that might be interested in developing this play, prescient to this moment in our history.
Perhaps your peaceful non-engagement was more meaningful than an attempt at dialogue at that moment. When someone wants a fight and gets neither fight nor flight in response, it doesn’t reward them. Community dialogues are needed, but I think they should be moderated and structured, as violent as some of the right-wing are right now.
So true. We did not engage in reality. That’s where the play takes off….
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Thanks for being a reader.