Colette Freedman An Indie Theater Profile by Alfred Molina

It’s hard to imagine a time in our creative history when the voice of the playwright has been more needed, and less valued. As the visual world becomes more demanding, and as our attention spans shorten, the world of cinema and television draws and seduces our writers with promises of success and instant gratification, while promising audiences a visual spectacle rather than an aural one. I take my hat off to anyone who, in this environment, makes a deliberate choice to write for the theatre.

Writing for the theatre is both unique and solitary. Television is the product of committee; teams of writers huddled in meetings fuelled by caffeine and impending deadlines, forever conscious of what the network and the advertisers need. Film is the nearest thing in our modern world to the playwright’s art, but even here the writer’s imagination can be trammeled by what was a hit last year, and be dictated to by the market-place. A playwright doesn’t have to ‘pitch’ an idea, or convince a producer that this is the one. Hence, the solitariness of the playwright’s world. He or she will become obsessed with an idea, with a bunch of characters, with a story, with a feeling, and be possessed by the need to articulate that obsession. And it takes time.

I suppose playwrights at some point did make a living solely from playwrighting, but in this day and age, that is almost impossible, especially for a young emerging writer. Our theatres can’t support resident writing programs. Playwrights are more or less on their own; writing for a very demanding medium that is increasingly shrinking. The bare economics of the theatre means that any new play is a huge risk and a new play from a young writer an even greater one. Our theatres need courage as well as the writer.

Colette Freedman, through a handful of plays, has displayed that very courage needed to be a playwright and to earn the right to call herself one. She hasn’t got by on guts alone however. There is tremendous skill and insight evident here. At the heart of her writing is her particular obsession, or perhaps her preoccupation. ‘Obsession’ suggests a certain helplessness, of not being in control, of not understanding the forces that drive us in any given direction. Colette’s preoccupation is the world that lies between the ears of her characters, more often than not women; their brains, how they think, why they do what they do, how they got there. In the minutiae of the everyday, in the details of life, in the creases and untidy folds of their existence, is where she forages for material.

In her play Sister Cities, a family comes together on the occasion of a mother’s death. Four sisters, with differing and often contradictory experiences of life re-unite to bury their mother and discover more about her and themselves than they ever bargained for. The revelations in the play are both troubling and revealing, as each sister negotiates and fumbles her way to a deeper truth. The fact that the play is injected with humor and tragedy in almost equal measure is an indication of the growing maturity of the writer. Freedman’s work has never pandered to what might be ‘the next thing’. Her path is clear and uncluttered in that regard. She writes what she feels, making no apologies for her characters in their arrogance or humility.

posted October 1, 2011