A Jewish, Queer woman trying to track her own family tree as it grows out of control around her. That's the premise of a new play I Do Today, which premiered last week at Chicago's Greenhouse Theater Center.
"Everything in the play is based on my own life," said playwright Sarah Myers, "and it's as true as my memories are. I haven't invented anything entirely -- I've just exaggerated certain characteristics of mine, layered a few stories together, and spent more time exploring some relationships than others."
"This is a Queer Jewish play," said playwright Sarah Myers, who based. "It's Jewish in a queer way, and queer in a Jewish way. What does that mean? I think you'll have to see it."
Though she currently resides in Minneapolis, for Myers -- a Chicago native -- it was obvious to premiere her story in Chicago.
"Chicago is my home," she said. "It's where my grandparents moved to when they first came to this country, it's where my sister and mother live now. I'm reading this gorgeous book called 'This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared' by Alan Lew. He talks about Jewish identity as linked to the dream of a lost home we never had: 'Why do we have to leave our home to find a home, and then leave again?' I feel that way about Chicago.
"Also, more practically, the humor is Chicago Jewish humor. The jokes land here in a way they don't in the Nordic lands where I now live."
Casting Carin Silkaitis in the lead (and only) role wasn't done in a conventional way. Myers said that getting her on board was more of a collaboration. Silkaitis' company, The Other Theatre Company, produced her play The Realm in the spring, and the two were introduced by a close mutual friend a couple of years prior and totally hit it off
"She really wanted to perform a solo play and was attracted to the Jewish and Queer themes in mine," Myers said. "She was the driving force behind proposing the play to Greenhouse."
Doing a one-woman play is a first for Silkaitis, who wanted to challenge herself and explore her acting a little further. "The amount of text was daunting, and the fact that the story is the playwright's life has proved challenging, because I care so deeply about doing it justice," she said.
"Sarah's writing is stunning. The word choice, the cadence of the line, the imagery -- it's just beautiful. Also, I AM a Queer Jewish woman who has been married twice, so it's literally so close to my own story that sometimes I feel like I'm talking about my own life."
During the open submission process for the Solo Celebration Series, The Greenhouse Theater received over 350 submissions. I Do Today was one of those submissions, and for director Jacob Harvey, it was love at first read.
"I fell in love with Sarah's words and Carin's spirit," Harvey said. "What's most exciting for me about directing this play is that it is a huge departure from my typical work. I have never directed a solo play before and usually am directing plays with a darker, more psychologically twisted tone. This play builds a wild family tree that grows wilder than you might think."
Originally from Los Angeles, and most recently New York, Harvey moved to Chicago a little over a year ago.
"Chicago has the very best theatre community in the country," he said. "It was that strong sense of community that brought me here. I love the two cities that I grew up in and was honored to be able to cut my teeth in those major markets, but my heart yearned for an artistic home, an artistic family. Something that I think is only found in Chicago."
With Harvey on board and the rehearsals in process, the play evolved and became a creation of all three.
"The work we've done on the script in a room together, asking questions, coming up with new interpretations and possibilities, throwing out wild ideas," Myers said, "…Our collective brain is better than any single one. Plus, I can't tell you how much I've loved being in a rehearsal room with a bunch of Queer Jews.
"Working with Jacob and Carin, I've discovered that I'm both Queerer and more Jewish than I thought I was. This is the most Jewish thing I've ever written…This is a play that takes place inside a busy, kooky mind filled with firing synapses; they've had to make that into something active and engaging for an audience. And creating a family tree -- my family tree -- on stage is a challenge in itself."
Within the Queer landscape, Myers explains that this play is more about bisexual identity and how it links, for her, to a kind of gender nonconformity that looks normative on the outside.
"My own bisexual identity feels a bit schizophrenic, especially in regards to marriage," she said. "Bisexuality is about being both insider and outsider no matter what context I'm in, but having to navigate that context anyway. So my own sexuality, like Judaism, is a metaphor for something bigger too."
"I Do Today" runs through Oct. 9 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Click here for tickets and use the promo code BOGO to get two tickets for the price of one.