Emily Sheffield '06 Explores Displacement in 'A Place Like Home'

Story posted May 18, 2006

Emily Sheffield '06 Emily Sheffield '06

A Place Like Home opens with the scene from The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy is careening through the cyclone in her farmhouse, then crashes to the ground in Oz. The playwright, Emily Sheffield '06, has superimposed music from Coldplay on the familiar film clip, ending it just as Dorothy says the famous line, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

Then a news anchor (Emily Goodridge '08), standing at a lectern, starts reporting on Hurricane Katrina as her image is projected on the screen behind her. When the official broadcast ends, her professional restraint disappears and she starts railing against FEMA and President George W. Bush and their lack of concern for the hurricane victims. "What about the children?" she asks. The play goes on to explore that question, but there are no easy answers.

Sheffield, an anthropology major, wanted to explore the issue of people being displaced from their homes.

"I wanted to do an independent study that was more than a paper, something that would engage people," she said. "Katrina was still in the news all the time. It was in the U.S.; it implicates the administration. It was something I could relate to on a personal level, though I'm not from New Orleans, and I don't know anyone from there."

Sheffield had taken Acting I, and decided to follow advice she got from Davis Robinson, associate professor of theater: "Do what moves you."

"If I hadn't taken that class, I never would have had the confidence to do this," Sheffield said. "It was the first theater class I ever took. It was something I never got into, time-wise, but the idea of writing a show really appealed to me."

The play is a series of monologues intermingled with news reports, the text of which Sheffield pulled from New York Times articles she found online.

"I took a couple of lines verbatim," she said. "The rest I tweaked to sound like a broadcast rather than a dry newspaper. That was the most difficult to write because it needed to be authentic. Everyone knows that voice. Her asides were more my own voice, my own rants on the news.

"The reporter became the string that ties everything together," she said.

The first perspective comes from a little girl in her pajamas (Cassia Roth '08), lying on a bed with a book in her hands. She's 13 and separated from her family after the hurricane because no one could take in all of them.

"I haven't seen my room in 39 days," she says. "Something finally happened in my life when Hurricane Katrina hit - but it was horrible. I thought I didn't need my family sometimes, but I would give anything to babysit my stupid brother.

"The world just seems too crowded for us now," the girl says.

The girl is reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, Sheffield's favorite book as a child.

"That was me when I was that age: losing myself in books during that angsty teenage period," she said. "I knew I wanted a young person's voice in the play."

Then an art dealer (Theo Salter '07) takes the stage, bemoaning the loss of artwork destroyed by the hurricane. The news reporter muses about the relative importance of lost artwork amid so much destruction, but the art dealer is devastated.

"I feel like I'm looking at a corpse," he says.

The final scene shows Ivano Pulito '08, seated at a table, playing Andrei Codrescu, the Romanian writer and commentator who has lived in New Orleans for years.

The actor's dialogue is interspersed with a reading Codrescu did on National Public Radio from his book of essays The Muse is Always Half Dressed in New Orleans.

"Condrescu is very critical of the administration and the United States and the way it treats New Orleans," Sheffield explained. "I was interested in his state of exile, as a refugee from Romania, now a refugee again, taking in other refugees. I was captivated by his words and how he speaks."

The play ends with the final scene from The Wizard of Oz, in which Dorothy realizes "there's no place like home."

Sheffield came away from the play's premiere impressed with the Bowdoin actors, who had gotten their scripts only three days prior, and pleased that she had accomplished her goal.

"I wanted to prove to myself: I can do this," she said. "This is the most academically and artistically rewarding experience I've ever had."

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