Julia and Lance, a young professional New York City couple, have just moved into what they believe is their dream home, in the West Village. As they bicker over unpacking and remodeling, flyers containing radical slogans fly through the mail slot and land on the kitchen counter. Is the house haunted? Reluctantly, Julia decides to summon Eleanor, her mother and a dowser living in Vermont. Eleanor figures out the problem, but it will take more than a dowsing stick to uncover the secrets of the townhouse. A play about parents and children and how the past is never far away from the present.
NOTE FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT
There is a mystique about the March 6, 1970 Weatherman townhouse bombing. Books have been written about the event. James Merrill, the poet and my late uncle, wrote a poem about it: “18 W 11 Street”. The blast, from a bomb factory in the basement, took place on a quiet West Village street. The three victims and two survivors, all members of the Weatherman Underground, an offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society, were very young. To me, the event, though violent and senseless, is a tragic one not solely because of the loss of life, but because it expresses the frustration and despair felt by many young people at the time in the face of persistent racism and an ever escalating and widening Vietnam War. For members of my family, the townhouse bombing has a personal significance. In the 1920s, the building was owned by my grandfather, Charles Merrill, the founder of Merrill Lynch brokerage house. He lived with his Hellen Ingram Merrill, his second wife and James’s mother. James was born there. Family lore has it, that after a night on the town, Charlie and Hellen liked to drop in on the nearby Church of the Ascension to worship. From time to time, they made gifts of clothing and money to fellow parishioners in need. James Merrill‘s poem is about those two, very different generations of inhabitants: “the Aquarians in the basement perfecting a device…”; “wall to wall extravagance without variety”. Interestingly, the next owner, was Broadway lyricistHoward Dietz. So many layers, so many stories.
For me, THE TOWNHOUSE is an attempt to write not about the explosion, but its legacy. Rather than celebrate or mourn the Weathermen victims and survivors. I want to connect with the feelings of passion and frustration, not unlike the feelings that grip us today when outraged by the persistent inequality of our society, the toll of gun violence, and never ending wars. THE TOWNHOUSE is also about generations trying to talk to each other about the different ways that they look at the world. Lance and Julia come from very different worlds, which become all too apparent. Willy tries to hold on to his secrets. Julia and Eleanor, her mother, so disapprove of the way each lives her life that they have accumulated years of secrets and misunderstandings between the two of them. The haunted townhouse and its restless spirits may be unnerving, but they present an opportunity for each character to understand what happened in 1970 and later. I love all of my plays, but as I said recently to Thom Fogarty, THE TOWNHOUSE has a special meaning for me because of its mashup of past and present. Grateful thanks to Thom and 360repco for the opportunity to share it with you.
Amy Merrill is a playwright, a produce, and author of many plays. Her SILVER SPOON (Script by Amy Merrill, Music and Lyrics by Si Kahn) premiered at The Nora Theatre in Cambridge, MA in May/June 2011 and was subsequently produced in April 2012 at MainStage West in Sebastopol, CA. Several of her ten-minute plays have been featured in The Boston Theatre Marathon. In process: THE SQUARE, a play about a returning Iraq vet. A resident of the Boston area, Amy is a founder and member of the planning team for the Basra- Boston Project which seeks to make connections among scholars, artists and students in the United States and the University of Basra, Iraq (www.fortpointtheatrechannel.org/basrabostonconnections). In Fall 2016, Amy’s IN THE REEDS, will be performed at various Boston-area venues as part of the Basra-Boston project. Member: Brandeis University Arts Council and Alumni Board, Associate Member, Dramatists Guild.
Many of the ‘old guard’ of Judson will remember that 18 W. 11th Street is the home next to ARTHUR LEVIN – long time member of the Judson community which housed his MEDICAL CONSUMERS LIBRARY. He lived through that day and shared his memories of that time with us throughout the years. And now comes this play about that very same place. I jumped at the chance to do it.
Judson Memorial Church Assembly Hall, 239 Thompson Street, NYC
Monday, November 7, 2016 at 7:00pm
Written by Amy Merrill / Directed by Thom Fogarty
Featuring Matt Cohn* Ally Farzetta* Susan Ferrara* and Washington Kirk*