Three couples prepare to go to bed for the night. They long for a few moments of intimacy, followed by sleep. But no matter how hard they try to shut out the world, Matt and Alice and Nick and Sally and Ben and Mary cannot hold their partners in the dark and give them what they need to feel safe, secure and most importantly, not so terribly vulnerable.
In her new play, “Bedtime Stories,” Caitlin Shetterly shows these couples in their bedrooms on different January nights in New York City. In 2002, Matt and Alice wrestle with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Nick and Sally in 2003 prepare for the invasion of Iraq by U.S. military forces, while Ben and Mary reflect in 2009 on the election of Barack Obama as president.
Shetterly, 35, lives in Portland with her husband, photographer Daniel E. Davis, and their young son. A frequent contributor to National Public Radio, she is at work on a memoir of how the recent recession affected her family to be published next year. Much of the material in the book has appeared on her blog, “Passage West,” and was aired on NPR as a radio diary.
Last week, she answered these questions about her work by e-mail:
Q: How did you and the owners of Stonington Opera House connect with each other?
A: First, I have enormous respect for the Opera House — what they’re doing, the energy they have, the tenacity they have for holding onto their goals and values, the amazing grace Linda and Judith have in handling all kinds of people and walks of life. I quite simply love Judith and Linda. To me, coming there, into that space, is like coming home.
In 2003, I brought the Tony Kushner play “Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Remain Unhappy,” which is a revolutionary play about Laura Bush in heaven explaining to dead Iraqi children why they needed to die [there]. Since then I’ve collaborated often with the Opera House. I’ve directed quite a few shows for them — readings and small plays. And we’ve always stayed in touch. We love to talk about ideas and figure out where we can work together on something.
Q: Why is Stonington a good place for your play to be experienced by an audience for the first time?
A: Why not? I think of the Opera House as a safe place for all people. We can all come, experience, live, learn, enjoy, laugh and cry and be human together, and these days we need that. But I hasten to add that it’s also really good work — the bar is high. This is a special place where important work gets made, witnessed and en-couraged.
Q: The six characters in your play all are under 40 and have been in their relationships for less than 10 years. Why will older people who have been together for decades relate to these characters?
A: I assume all older people were once young. Also, this play is about a time in our country, our lives right now as Americans — we can all relate to the external narrative affecting these relationships, these lives: 9-11, the war, Bush and Obama and the fear many of us carry about the way the world is going.
Q: As a playwright, what do you learn about your characters from a reading like the one in Stonington?
A: I learn if they’re being totally honest. And, more importantly, if I’m letting them be totally honest or am I getting in the way. If anything rings false for me when I listen to what these actors do with the work, then I will ask myself “why” and go back to the page.
Q: What is your memoir, to be published in 2011, about?
A: My memoir is called “The Long Way Home” and will be published in 2011 by Voice, a division of Hyperion. It is the story of a family — my family — and the iconic American journey west I made with my husband, Dan, from Maine to Los Angeles, at the beginning of the current economic recession. There we had [our] first child and tried to build the lives we had dreamed for [our]selves. But then the recession hit California like an earthquake and we were forced to pack up and move home to Maine and in with my mother. As we put our lives back together, we found strength in living as a multigenerational family, and we also found a deep reservoir of grace and love we didn’t expect when we felt so busted up. What we eventually learned is that holding tight to the bonds of family—more than ambitions or, dreams, even — is what will, in the end, keep you whole.
Q: Your blog, www.caitdangowest.squarespace.com, and pieces for National Public Radio have made your private life and your personal financial struggles very public. How has that affected your marriage?
A: Dan and I are both artists. We see our lives and our selves as part of the work — both of us have turned the lens and microphone on ourselves many times. We are able to keep the “art” and “our lives” separate when it comes time to make the work. We help each other and love making work together. Sending it out for the rest of the world to disassemble is part of the process. My husband, for instance, is now photographing diapers and toys, the paraphernalia of a young family. Is it about us? Sort of. Is it about him? Again, sort of. Is it about all of us and our children and being parents and the garbage we all make and throw in landfills and also our love of play? Yes. Is it about being parents and having careers and those nights when your house is such a mess you can hardly deal but you do what needs to be done: You clean? Yes.
“Bedtime Stories” will be presented at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 12, at the Stonington Opera House.
For information, call 367-2788 or visit www.operahousearts.org.