(Host) Middlebury playwright Dana Yeaton is no stranger at Burlington’s Vermont Stage Company.
He is their longtime resident playwright, and is perhaps best known for his adaptation of Chris Bojhalian’s novel, "Midwives".
Now Yeaton has created something rare in American theater….a two-person socio-political musical love story.
The play is called "My Ohio", and it premieres this week in Burlington. VPR’s Neal Charnoff takes us Backstage.
(Charnoff) In the two-character musical, "My Ohio", Bonnie is a small-town kindergarten teacher and devout Christian. The chiropractor she normally goes to has been replaced by Neil, a gay atheist from Brooklyn.
What begins as a comic exploration of their relationship becomes a red state/blue state allegory.
The two leads are played by Trisha Rapier and Matthew Carlson, both of New York City.
In the song, "Born Again Again", Bonnie has a spiritual reaction to Neil’s chiropractic treatment, which has eased her physical pain.
But then, Bonnie begins to have second thoughts. She feels that the pain was her most direct connection with God, and asks Neil to reverse the treatment. He refuses.
This disagreement is the beginning of Bonnie’s and Neil’s struggle to understand each other, and they continue to spar over social, political and moral issues.
My Ohio was written by Middlebury playwright Dana Yeaton. The music was composed by one of Yeaton’s former students at Middlebury College, Andy Mitton.
Yeaton says that he started writing "My Ohio" as a traditional play. But he began to sense that adding musical numbers made his story more theatrical and more operatic, what he refers to as "small lives made big".
(Yeaton) "The big attraction for me in a musical has always been noticing how in musical theater, five minutes in, they can have you by the heartstrings. Moments that normally come late in Act 2 in a straight play you can have very early."
(Charnoff) While writing My Ohio, Yeaton schooled himself in musical theater. He says that musicals often have a romance at their center, and this play, at its heart, is no different.
(Yeaton) "He’s gay, she’s straight…this is not going to end in a traditional marriage, but I do think of it as a love story. And I want people to think of it as a love story."
(Charnoff) "My Ohio" is predicated on a common comic conceit….the odd couple with opposing worldviews.
(Yeaton) "It’s about two people who are fundamentally different, who have to come together without fundamentally changing. The trick in writing it was to make sure it was the best fight it could be. If I’m gonna pit these two forces against each other, it’s a bad play if either one just wins."
(Charnoff) But Yeaton says "My Ohio" goes beyond the personal. He wants the relationship between Bonnie and Neal to mirror what he sees as a deep political and spiritual divide in the U.S.
(Yeaton) "It’s about America now, and the position we find ourselves in, wondering, can we stop segregating ourselves into two camps, and can we stop the polar opposition that we seem to have to each other."
(Charnoff) Yeaton says there are lessons to be learned in how Bonnie and Neil come to understand and appreciate each other.
(Yeaton) "I think what both of them learn is that by caring, things change. By the mere act of trying to understand somebody else, we change and it allows for change."
(Charnoff) Dana Yeaton hopes that despite having the veneer of musical comedy, My Ohio will provoke audiences to look at their own belief systems, and develop sympathy for the opposing viewpoint.
(Yeaton) "I think it’s a tough play with almost a cartoon heart. You can’t take it too seriously, and then I think it comes around and asks you to.
For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff.
Note: "My Ohio runs through May 2nd at Flynnspace in Burlington. The show moves to Middlebury’s Town Hall on May 6th.