As part of its programme to showcase new work, Canal Cafe Theatre hosts ‘The Playwrights Suite’, where readthroughs of plays take place at regular intervals. Their latest event featured a play by American playwright Anne Adams, titled The Remains.
Set in a unspecified town, the play focuses on Pat and Tammy (who are a couple) and three former students that Pat used to teach. Melancholy hangs over the town like a cloud, as everyone has been rendered numb by a public suicide at a school. What makes this pertinent to the characters in the play is that they all knew the person concerned. However, the real kernel of the play is WHY this took place…
Like many of the most revered U.S. plays, The Remains looks at, amongst other things, the flip side of the American dream – at those for whom opportunities, material success and personal fulfilment hasn’t been forthcoming. ‘Ironically’, the person who seemed to have all of these things in some measure took his own life…
There aren’t many plays where a same-sex couple have such a central role and where the heteronormative relationships are on the periphery. In some ways Tammy and Pat’s sexuality makes no difference whatsover. It’s only later in the play, when the ramifications of certain events test the steadfastness of their relationship, that we see why it’s an important aspect of the characters.
Pat is generally forthright in her opinions, while Tammy tries to be less confrontational. Tammy’s ‘hestitancy’, however, is interpreted as an inability to express herself fully. When we first meet Tammy and Pat, the aftermath of the school incident still weighs heavily on them. Pat has taken extended time off work, but finds Tammy’s line of questioning irksome. On a practical level, they also have to contend with the fact that the barn that houses Pat’s rare book collection is in disarray and that the most valuable book – a signed first edition of Moby Dick – is missing.
Pat has been teaching English literature at a high school for a quarter of a century, but of all the pupils who she’s taught over the years, three have demonstrated an uncommon understanding of her curriculum – Candice, JJ and Ben. This has created a bond between them, a kinship well into the students’ adulthood (much to Tammy’s consternation). Yet of the trio, it was Ben who was chosen to work with Pat’s collection of rare books and work in restoration…
The Moby Dick book is in many ways the McGuffin of the play, with each character having their own plans for the proceeds of its sale. For JJ, with a wife and family, it would go some ways to helping with all the months he hasn’t found gainful employment. Candice’s ‘claim’ on the book is equally valid, if not greater. A ne’er-do-well husband who has spent all the savings and rent money, Candice and her daughter face being made homeless. The sale of the book would grant her some measure of financial independence, now that she’s officially ‘separated’.
Then there is Tammy. She desperately wants a child and the book represents the only way IVF treatment can be afforded. For Pat, however, this isn’t the most immediate priority… The greatest tension in the play – even more so than who has the book or Pat’s friendship with Candice and JJ – lies in the secrets most of the characters keep as a result of their respective relationships with Ben…
For all of its wider themes, Adams’ play is an intimate affair that is driven by the characters’ needs, which are often unsaid.
In the case of Ben, (whose real importance is revealed in the latter half of the play) there is no distinctinction in his mind between the past and present. Whereas the rest of his peers have endeared hardships and change of circumstances, his ‘good years’ have continued seamlessly since high school. Should that be jeopardised or taken away, what does he have left?
Of course ‘the truth’ is rarely clear-cut, especially when seen from multiple perspectives. The Remains also allows the audience to question whether the characters are being honest with themselves or whether what they say publicly is swayed by others.
© Michael Davis 2018
The readthrough of The Remains took place at the Canal Cafe Theatre on 17th March.
The Remains – directed by Ross Howard
Pat – read by Jane Perry
Tammy – read by Mary Stewart
Candice – read by Samantha Coughlan
JJ – read by Russell Bentley
Ben – read by Matthew McFetridge