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This is a film story in which non-professional actors play themselves. It concerns six old women and their bus driver, a middle-aged woman (Michelle Sweeney), who, when their bus breaks down, are stranded in an isolated countryside. In the two days that follow, they find shelter in an abandoned and derelict house, conspire to find food, and learn about each other and themselves through personal disclosure and storytelling.
Before meeting any of the women, the audience hears their child-like chatter and laughter as they emerge from a deep fog cover into the sunshine. Clearly the women are old, but viewers soon regard them as sisters at recess giggling at the novelty of their unexpected adventure, happy to be in good company. When they reach a dilapidated and deserted house, it offers no amenities: no beds, no electricity, no water, no food. Each woman approaches the situation in a different way, but there is a buoyancy and resourcefulness about them in spite of some possible apprehensions concerning rescue and survival.
Any notion that this is a group of interchangeable old women is quickly dispelled. Separate stories unfold against spectacular scenery and humble shelter, as they try to fix the bus, catch fish with pantyhose, hunt for frogs, collect hay for mattresses, paint, laugh, sing, and sigh. In contrast to the current portrait, additional glimpses of the women are provided by superimposed photographic montages or snapshots of each character when she was younger.
One woman (Mary Meigs) is a lesbian, another a nun, another a survivor of stroke. Some are braver than others, and some have moments in their past that, when alluded to, are profoundly moving. One, we believe, is especially vulnerable and ready to die. Another, Cissy (Cissy Meddings), makes us laugh out loud; stooped and stroke-addled, she is full of life and silliness, while enduring the quiet pain of a partially explained isolation from her son and grandchildren, only the facial expression and eyes letting on. Catherine (Catherine Roche) the nun, who will make the long walk for eventual rescue, brings a serenity to the group, while a good-natured and extremely resourceful Mohawk elder (Alice Diabo) demonstrates both strength in the face of adversity and unhappiness in recollections of her marriage.
Their outer bodies belie the inner sense of being. Except for one woman who wears a wig to cover her thinning hair, none of the characters are concerned about their appearances. We may see them as old, but their actions and spirit suggest playfulness, creative energy, and wisdom. Their options may be gone or diminished, but they think of themselves as ongoing persons with much more to say and do.
Except to say that the women survive the ordeal, there are no resounding triumphs. Viewers, possibly the strangers referenced in the film’s title, gather with the good company of old women to learn about life and themselves, especially the vitality and worth of persons frequently isolated from mainstream society. For a brief time, a new society gathers and sifts experience for mutual benefit. We know about the darkness to follow and wonder what their lives will be when they are found, when this moment has passed.
These three short plays (approximately 30 minutes each) were commissioned for use in readers' theatre (see Commentary). Each addresses a specific patient/provider concern at the end of life. "Journey Into that Good Night" by Berry Barta is the story of a dying adolescent coming to terms with her mortality. Her physician demonstrates gratifying sensitivity in his understanding of her emotional struggle and the girl's mother progresses perceptibly in her own grief process in the course of the dialogues.
Marjorie Ellen Spence offers "Stars at the Break of Day," set in a nursing home where a middle aged man dying of cancer is confined. The reader meets a spectrum of elderly residents whose antics provide the humor necessary to keep the piece from becoming maudlin. There is discussion about assisted suicide as well as a view into one mode of accepting pain and impending, albeit untimely, death.
The third play, "Time to Go," by C. E. McClelland, is a fantasy which combines comic whimsy with a penetrating and profound sense of reality. The central issue is that of "letting go" of a son who has long lived in a persistent vegetative state following an accident. The victim's story is articulated in conversations between him and visiting "Friends" from another realm. Without introducing theology or politics, the conversations direct the reader to focus on the parents' reluctance to make a decision to discontinue life support.
Mrs. Turpin and her husband enter their doctor's waiting room and immediately Mrs. Turpin begins to assess the other patients present: a pleasant, well-dressed lady; a "white trash" woman and her mother and son; a fat adolescent with acne. She and the pleasant woman strike up a conversation about the importance of refinement and good disposition. They discuss, for example, how you have to be nice to "niggers" to get them to do any work. The "white trash" woman counterpoints with comments that indicate her ignorance and poor breeding.
Suddenly, the fat adolescent throws her book at Mrs. Turpin and tries to strangle her. The girl is subdued by the nurse and her mother and the doctor sends her by ambulance to the hospital, but before being taken away, she whispers to Mrs. Turpin, "Go back to hell where you belong, you old wart hog." At home, Mrs. Turpin confronts God. Was this experience a message from Him? She demands of God, "Who do you think you are?" As the sun sets, a "visionary light" comes over her and she has a vision in which the "niggers" and "white trash" march on the bridge to heaven ahead of good, respectable people like her.
Summary:The narrator describes the profound impact of motherhood on her life, so profound that she can barely remember a life without children. There has been a conversion to total commitment, " . . . that / instant when I gave my life to them," but when and how did it happen?
Summary:A daughter sits with her dying father during the day, thinking about their relationship, keeping him company as he tries to swallow a little coffee, holding the cup for him to spit into. At night he sleeps with his wife; the next morning he sits again in his chair and looks out at the dawn and seems to be waiting for his daughter once again.
A frantic phone call from an elderly mother to her middle-aged daughter opens this somewhat surreal and menacing short story. What follows is the daughter’s search for her father who has been missing for one and one-half days. Is he lost because of the stroke he had suffered or merely being wickedly mischievous as his wife suggests? Or is he hiding in anger or seeking revenge? Or, is he dead?
The menacing tone to this story is a result of the author’s skillful use of the second person voice: "Dad? Daddy? you whisper. You imagine you hear low, throaty laughter--unless it’s the wind . . . the door to the closet is open, your mother preceded you here, desperate in her search; you know no one is hiding inside but you can’t stop yourself from peering in, holding your breath. Then you switch off the closet light, you switch off the lights in the room, shut the door and walk away."
A man called "The Counselor" is wandering the deserts, plains, and villages. He teaches scripture and rebuilds churches, like a monk, eating and sleeping very little. He attracts an odd group of followers--cripples, murderers, fanatical boys--and leads them to Canudos where they build a town and a glorious cathedral. The town is designed in imitation of Jerusalem. Many people flock to the site to see The Counselor; he heals them with a touch and washes them clean of sin.
The newly-installed conservative government is suspicious of Canudos, seeing it as a bastion of progressive sentiment. They resolve to attack the town and wipe it out. The Counselor, however, has long warned his followers that the Dog and his forces of evil will try to ruin their sanctuary.
When the small branch of the army sent to destroy what they think is a band of cripples and madmen arrives, they are slaughtered with all the vengeance of a holy war. The angered government sends a larger force and the town is eventually destroyed, but the few survivors insist that they saw The Counselor ascend to heaven, and so his reign lives on.
Condemned to death, Socrates, strong, calm and at peace, discusses the immortality of the soul. Surrounded by Crito, his grieving friends and students, he is teaching, philosophizing, and in fact, thanking the God of Health, Asclepius, for the hemlock brew which will insure a peaceful death. His last words are "a cock for Asclepius!"
The wife of Socrates can be seen grieving alone outside the chamber, dismissed for her weakness. Plato (not present when Socrates died) is depicted as an old man seated at the end of the bed. The pompous "medical celebrity"--as Tolstoy might describe him, were he one of Ivan Ilyich's five consults (The Death of Ivan Ilyich, see this database)--is pontificating on his rounds about the pharmacological details of the medication.
This anti-war novel is written from the point of view of an injured World War I infantryman (Joe Bonham). As the plot progresses we realize how severe the injuries are (most of his face has been blown away and eventually his arms and legs must be amputated--leaving a faceless torso) and why the story is being told by an interior monologue voice.
Interspersed with recollections of Joe Bonham's life is a description of his amazing struggle to remain human. Joe's quest begins with a search for "time," and once time has been found, he begins to "organize" his world. After many years of struggle to orient himself, he tries to reach out to others by "communicating" with them. Unfortunately, his initial attempts to move his head in Morse Code are initially misconstrued as seizures, for which he receives sedatives. Eventually, a nurse new to his care realizes what he is trying to do and informs his doctors.
What Joe wants most is to let the world know about the horrors of war. He assures his keepers that he could support himself in this venture if only they would let him out (people would be glad to pay to see a "freak" such as himself). The answer he receives in return, one which had to be "literally" pounded into his forehead: "What you ask is against regulations."
This story is a reminiscence of the care provided to a dying grandmother when the Latina narrator was a teenager. She recounts the turmoil of her home life and the love and protection her grandmother provided. Grandmother's home, with its flowers growing wild on the front porch and smells of chiles frying in the kitchen, was a refuge of living things, a place where an awkward young woman could come into her own.
In the story's remarkable ending, after Abuelita (grandmother) dies, the granddaughter carefully undresses her, and then enters the cleansing waters of the bathtub with her. There she waits for the moths to come--the moths which Abuelita told her of "that lay within the soul and slowly eat the spirit up." The moths do come, and then she cries, sobs, for herself, her mother, and grandmother--"there, there, I said to Abuelita, rocking us gently, there, there."