Upon closer inspection, Anderson — whose Emma starts a fund in honor of her deceased Marxist grandfather, only to find out he was actually a spy for the Russians — has “learned that that is not the case . . . [Emma] has to learn how to really look at people, and where people are coming from, and why people do the things that they do, rather than take for granted that people have a certain role in her life to fill and that they’ve always filled” it.
“I just feel like so few plays get these multigenerational relationships,” director Eleanor Holdridge said. Holdridge, who directed Theater J’s production of Annie Baker’s “Body Awareness” last year, was drawn to “this idea of how myths, or how families, think about themselves [that] can be inherited as well as any gene.”
“Emma just learns throughout the play that nobody is who she thought they were,” Anderson said. Her platform for the fund is that she’s fighting for the social justice her grandfather deserved but never received. Emma’s father, who knew about her grandfather’s betrayal, never told her the truth. “She feels like her dad raised her to believe one thing, and it wasn’t true at all, and [she’s] been acting as if it were true, and [she] put all her faith in [him] because [he’s her] dad.”
“I think there’s about three different times in the play where someone says, ‘Don’t tell so-and-so this.’ Or ‘I didn’t tell you because this other relative asked me not to tell you.’ It just gets so complicated,” Holdridge said.
In the case of this family, it’s a secrecy fueled by a shame that Emma doesn’t quite grasp. “These are the losers of history,” Holdridge said. “The Marxists, who found out that Stalin was a monster who killed millions of people, and what do you do with that? You still believe in Marxism or communism, but the poster children of those movements have turned out to be monsters.”
Holdridge researched the history of Marxism and communism in America. “The whole Red Scare era was so good at making the words ‘communist’ and ‘Marxist’ evil words. It’s not politically expedient, ever, to use those words. So if you are a Marxist, what does that mean today? ”
The play isn’t about that history so much as it’s informed by that history, she added. “It’s a part of who they are,” said Holdridge, and Emma’s challenge “is how she figures out what to do with the truth when she has it.”
Through Oct. 6 at Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW, www.washington
‘Agnes Under the Big Top’
Aditi Brennan Kapil is an immigrant two times over. The playwright’s “Agnes Under the Big Top,” enjoying an area premiere at Forum Theatre, has an immigrant at its center. Agnes, a Liberian immigrant living in New York City, has terminal cancer diagnosed in the first scene of the play.