Harrington brings life and relevancy to Civil War issues
She listens to the voices in her head, she "stays in
a place of not knowing the answers," and she puts words into the
mouths of the dead. Crazy? Well, yes and no.
Any creative endeavor requires some level of insanity and
the playwright, Laura Harrington, is certainly not lacking in this respect.
Her imagination roams free in terms of time and landscape and her play
settings range from the battlefields of Georgia during the Civil War to
Napoleon's home of exile.
Transforming History into Theater" with an explanation
of where the premise of "Hallowed Ground," a Civil War drama,
emerged from. It did not grow out of untended ground but rather out of
years of background research and careful examination of eyewitness records.
Harrington explored every resource that would help her to
reconstruct the quotidian rituals and details of the men and women who
lived through the Civil War - details that are usually overlooked as unimportant
by historians. Harrington researched diaries written by women, letters,
and the accounts of common soldiers.
"Art blooms only where the soil is deep" said
Harrington. Indeed, her roots of knowledge ran deeply into the personal
thoughts and daily troubles that filled the minds of Civil War participants.
Having prepared the soil of her mind, Harrington allowed
her imagination to grow characters and started creating the texture of
"Hallowed Ground" by "beginning with voice."
Allowing the voices to emerge and to clue her into where
the story was going, Harrington wrote a series of monologues and out of
each of these grew a character that was both rich and substantial. With
each new character there came new questions and new possibilities, new
ways in which the characters might be woven together to create the fabric
of the play.
Harrington also addressed broader questions such as "Why
bother?" and "Why write about the civil war now?" The "complexity
of morality in the midst of war" and the fact that in war "we
encounter the worst of us and the best of us" intrigued and captured
Harrington's imagination. Specifically, the issues that the Civil War
raised seemed to Harrington far from resolved by the end of that war.
Today, the United States and indeed the world are still dealing with problems
concerning race and division.
Beyond being inspired to write for creative purposes, Harrington
seemed to have somewhat of an anti-war agenda. At one point during the
lecture, she pointed out that many soldiers admit, "all wars are
the same." Yet, if this is true, if we already understand the pattern
behind war, then what keeps men from establishing peace?
With this in mind, Harrington's characters are often found
questioning the point of war and questioning their place in war. Although
Harrington's plays may be primarily set in the past, her words and art
make the issues faced by characters in history accessible and very much
applicable to the modern world.
"Hallowed Ground" will be playing at the Portland Stage Company from January 29 through February 17. The play won the 2000-01 Clauder Playwriting Competition. Harrington is on the faculty at M.I.T. and is the winner of the 1998 Massachusetts Cultural Council Playwriting Fellowship.
Her latest play, "Bathtub Diaries," focuses on
the life of Napoleon in exile.
Harrington's lecture was presented by the Bowdoin College Department of Theater and Dance and sponsored by the Friends of Bowdoin Fund. Harrington was a 1976 graduate of Bowdoin College and majored in English.