From retrospect to Millie's War: writing a configurative play
Wintour, Elizabeth G.
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Millie's War is a configurative play written as an experiment in form, an exercise exploring the possibilities of a more suitable structure for the content of an earlier written play. In 1990, I wrote Retrospect, a play about a woman who discovers the answer to a mystery in her past: the death of her father in World War II. The story becomes a murder mystery, but in the end, Retrospect answers all the protagonist's questions about the death of her father. Retrospect is a linear play with horizontal movement. It tells a complete story. Traumatic memory rarely works in this way. Since the original play, Retrospect, failed to handle the issues of war, loss, and suffering in a manner that satisfied me, I wrote a new play. The motivation for the new play was to take the internal traumatic experience of a young girl who lost her father in war, and see if I could represent dramatically how the mind goes through trauma. With Millie's War, I was interested to see if, by changing the shape of the play, I could better express the traumatic experience. With Millie’s War, I explore what happens when logical, causal structure is transformed into a structure shaped by image, chance, juxtaposition, and movement. A successful Millie’s War shall mirror the pre-narrative stage of traumatic experience dramatically through a configurative structure. The play shall thus embody the chaos of a traumatized mind: it shall be repetitious and illogical as it replays snatches of memory in a circular fashion. Rather than presenting a story, meaning and significance shall come through the power of its symbolic associations, like a dream. Additionally, in the Millie’s War script, I feel an audience response should be measured in a Brechtian sense rather than an Aristotelian sense. In other words, an audience, instead of empathizing with Millie, should be enlightened to the experience of trauma caused by war. I provide a dramaturgical analysis of Millie's War to place it within the context of current playwriting practice. I explore elements of configurative form and their relationship to Samuel Beckett’s Eh Joe, Bill T. Jones’s Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land, Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach, Suzan-Lori Parks’s Imperceptible Mutabilities of the Third Kingdom, Joseph Chaikin with Jean-Claude van Itallie’s The Serpent, and Joseph Chaikin with Susan Yankowitz’s Terminal. Additionally, I chronicle my writing process from the inspiration of the first play, Retrospect, through the writing and production processes of the new play, Millie's War. Finally, I evaluate how well the new script held up as a tool for communicating my vision of the play, and I explore possible solutions for revisions.