Thursday, April 26, 2018

Play a Day: Provenance

Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder
For Thursday I read Provenance by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, and available at New Play Exchange.

Earlier this year I attended an audition and the performer chose as her contemporary piece a monologue I hadn't heard before. When I asked about it, she said it was from The Bone Orchard by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder. She'd found it at New Play Exchange. I will read that someday, today I read this instead.
prov·e·nance (ˈprävənəns) n.
the place of origin or earliest known history of something.
"an orange rug of Iranian provenance"
synonyms: origin, source, place of origin; More
- the beginning of something's existence; something's origin.
"they try to understand the whole universe, its provenance and fate" - a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality.
"the manuscript has a distinguished provenance"
It is also the name of the restaurant in the Cleveland Museum of Art. My wife and I love to dine in museums. We also love books, though it would be difficult for me to suggest I love books more than she. She has worked in several bookstores, in New York and Cleveland. I visited her in early 1995 when she was working for Shakespeare & Company, the one on West 81st Street, now demolished.

During her shift I sat in Cafe Lalo and wrote my first full-length play, The Vampyres.

She often laments never having become a librarian. But she is an English teacher at an all-girls school, and while that's not the same thing it feels to me like a related thing. Because though there remains great gender disparity in who gets published, the care and maintenance of books, like the care and maintenance of most things, falls to women.

The best bookstores in Cleveland, Appletree, Loganberry, and Mac's Backs, are all owned and operated by women.

Books are bizarre artifacts; finite, as memory goes, but expansive. Pages have writing on both sides, and collapse into a neat package that can hold thousands of words or stories. Paper is impermanent, easily damaged by water or heat. Even so, some last thousands of years. I have books from my childhood, from my parents' childhood. This CD of priceless personal photographs I burned ten years ago is already damaged and worthless.

Wilder's play is not entirely about books, though that is its entry point. Two women with cross-purposes meet in a library, and the reluctant search for a rare book is on. Her crackling dialogue is positively Beckettian, expressing frustration and futility with knowing wit and absurdity. It is a magical tale about the things we keep, the tasks left undone, and the fear of making connection with those best-suited to take the journey with us.

This month I have taken the opportunity to read so many outstanding plays, so many stories, from such a diverse selection of talented and enchanting writers. In Provenance, one of Wilder's character observes that, "stories are meant to be shared." Isn't it so?

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