The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children
Matthew Trumbull in a scene from The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children
Author: Matthew Trumbull
Description: Moving seamlessly between heartbreakingly funny and simply heartbreaking, the play journeys through the strange bonding days between Trumbull’s cancer-stricken 55-year-old father, an unassuming Minnesota engineer who takes his belief in usefulness above and beyond; and Trumbull, a New York City actor with a slew of day jobs both brief and bizarre.
First Produced: 2012
Date Added: 9/30/2012
Content Advisory: strong language
Keywords: Drama · Tearjerker · Religion and Spirituality · Death and the Afterlife · Sickness and Mental Illness · Grief and Mourning · True Stories · Memoirs · Families
1 Act, 60 Minutes
0 Females, 1 Male
NOTE: The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children is fully protected by copyright law and is subject to royalty. All inquiries concerning production, publication, reprinting or use of this play in any form should be addressed to email@example.com.
Original Production Information
The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children was originally presented at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival, at the Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre with the following cast and credits:
Written and Performed by Matthew Trumbull
Directed by Matthew Freeman
Lighting Design by Kyle Ancowitz
Dramaturgy/Board Operation by Annette Storckman
Authorized Company Representative: Mark Staufenberg
Produced by The Theater Accident, in association with Blue Coyote Theater Group
Review by Jo Ann Rosen
In The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children, Matthew Trumbull weaves a very personal tale about the last three years of his father’s life. It is the smart details that define the character of Trumbull’s father, Jonathan, and place in relief the respectful relationship between father and son. This is no mushy cry-fest. It is a poignant story that begins with Jonathan’s unusual choices and then, zeroing in on the survivors, ends, as all lives do.
The excellent structure of Trumbull’s story contributes to the success of his solo performance. He begins with strong, intriguing imagery: two tall men in black trench coats stand in the doorway of his mother’s house in Minneapolis. Surprisingly, they are not from the funeral home. His father, a smart, practical engineer who disliked wastefulness, willed his body to the School of Medicine at the University of Minnesota. This immediately reveals a man who is beyond ordinary and is firmly grounded. The two men – medical students – were there to retrieve his body. Anecdotes about Matthew, Jonathan, and his mother, JoAnna, are sprinkled throughout. They all reinforce characteristics of a principled, unsentimental family man, devoted to his wife and proud of his son. In one, Trumbull describes one of his first jobs – a job he grew to loathe so much he told his father he was going to quit the next day. According to his father, “A man didn’t cut and run. He stuck out a job at least 6 months, and always gave two weeks notice.” The anecdote continues until Jonathan’s work ethic is fully etched onto his son. Trumbull’s transitions between anecdotes are seamless, and he winds up his performance with a final compelling image that hints at Trumbull’s commitment to live up to his father’s expectations.
Trumbull’s performance, under the careful direction of Matthew Freeman, is focused. He stands, occasionally sits, and ultimately removes the jacket of his three-piece suit before he gives a snippet of his eulogy. His movements are minimal, but all of them are meaningful. His eyes reveal the vulnerability of loss, and it feels as if the funeral were yesterday rather than nearly a decade ago. No matter. The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children is a well-written piece and a fine performance. His father would have been very proud.
reviewed at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival
Review by Dan Bacalzo, Theatermania (2012)
Beautifully written….what makes the tale so poignant is the amount of detail, peppered with unexpected moments of humor, woven into it. Anyone who has lost a loved one is sure to be moved by the performance… Read more...
Review by Vanessa Thill, TimeOut NY (2012)
[Matthew Trumbull] achieves a masterful balance between the tragedy of loss and the touching moments of humor it can create. Read more...
Review by Jason Rost, Theatre is Easy (2012)
It is one of those few theatrical experiences where a “review” seems truly inadequate and a humble “thank you” to Mr. Trumbull is more appropriate. Read more...
Excerpt from The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children
When they came for my father there were two of them. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the doorway of my mother’s house just outside Minneapolis, in identical black trench coats. It was getting dark, but I could see they were quite tall.
My mother’s house. It felt strange. It was now my mother’s house.
I said, “Hello”.
The one on the right said, “How do you do”, as though I were about to usher him into the “the parlor”.
The one on the left never spoke one word the entire night.
They had come for my father’s body, which was in the living room by the piano.
MATTHEW sips from his mug.
They weren’t from a funeral home. They were medical students from the University of Minnesota. My father had willed his body upon death to the School of Medicine. When he and my mother sat in the office of the university’s Anatomy Bequest Program in 2002, nobody knew if my father’s cancer had come back, but it hardly mattered. The infection that hit his lungs during chemotherapy three years prior had ravaged the tissue, so his inability to breathe was going to cross the finish line well ahead of cancer in the race to kill him.