Marin Gazzaniga and John Ellison Conlee in So Close at Walkerspace
Several years ago, when freelancer/ actor Marin Gazzaniga was writing for the non-profit City organization, Victims Services (now called Safe Harbor), part of her job was to interview crime victims. She did a lot of work with domestic violence, speaking with the different parties: violence survivors, social workers, police officers, even the batterers themselves. Gazzaniga became quite familiar with the many points of view surrounding the subject, and a couple of very intense interviews actually inspired the idea for her first play, So Close.
Its been a long process to writing this play, reports Gazzaniga, whos written and edited for numerous magazines, and several nonfiction books. I felt domestic violence was always portrayed too simply by the media: woman/good, man/bad, so lock him up and throw away the key. Theres truth there, of course, but its not useful to solve the problem. I wanted to get more voices into the discussion, but a book didnt feel right to me. So I put the project away for a while. When I started acting again, I took out the material and wrote a piece as a series of monologues.
The piece was workshopped around with positive response, and Gazzaniga got other actors to read, including Tony and Drama Desk nominee, John Conlee (The Full Monty), who got completely involved.
My husband is a bass player, who played for Johns show, so I knew him, Gazzaniga explains. His participation has really spurred the project. Then we got the gifted actor/director Julia Gibson. The entire cast is just outstanding, and Michael Sextons contribution as director and dramaturge has been crucial to developing the piece.
So Close is an intimate, dramatic portrait of one couple - Claire and Joey- narrated by Claire, and seen through the eyes of family and friends. In writing the play, it was Gazzanigas intention to look at questions and challenge ideas not everyones heard of before. Why is she so passionate about the plays subject?
Its from working around it with people who were trying to help and getting frustrated, she says. I wanted to be able to bring all the complexity to light. I was adamant that there would be no physical violence in the piece. I didnt want any judgment, but I also didnt want to whitewash the subject. When domestic violence was first brought to our attention, we learned its not ok to beat your wife. We now know thats wrong, then why does it still happen? This play is one attempt through one familys story to understand how it can work. For example, a lot of people in violent relationships really love each other. And if you dont understand that, youre not going to be able to help.
According to the writer, whos also acting in the piece, So Close opens with six strangers, who come into a waiting room, and begin to tell their stories. Its about a couple with a typical domestic violent relationship, but with a twist.
Rather than tell a story to see how different we are from these people, Id like the audience to see places were the same, in order to challenge us about how we all judge, Gazzaniga notes. I dont want to come across like I have answers. Im just putting out various points of view. Actually, I hope people leave with more questions than answers themselves. Maybe theyve learned something that opened their perspective. Its really not a depressing play, so I dont think youre going to leave feeling horrible. Although its not sugar-coated, I can even promise you a fairly happy ending.