I think I was inadvertently and divinely prepped before seeing the Off-Broadway play Blood from a Stone by Tommy Nohilly last night. For the last few weeks I’ve been editing some stunning books about life and death, anger and forgiveness, and compassion. I’ve also been speeding down a runway to a “big” birthday—eliciting my keen awareness of how fleeting our time is and how I don’t want to squander it feeling lousy. And I’ve been inexplicably waking at 3 a.m., getting up, and spontaneously meditating. I recommend all of these preparations before seeing Blood from a Stone. Or none.
Blood from a Stone is an admittedly autobiographical play about what must be one of the world’s most dysfunctional families. Travis (Ethan Hawke) comes home to Connecticut—a state name that literally chokes him when he demonstrates articulating it. He’s on his way to, once again, throw his life off a cliff and start all over again, and he’s dropping by to see his family, get some money, get some pills. His mother (Ann Dowd) rages at his father (Gordon Clapp). His father rages at his sons (Hawke and Thomas Guiry) and anybody who’s not white and the world. And the house rages at the whole family—pouring water on them through the kitchen ceiling, electrocuting them through the broken thermostat, and haranguing them through intrusive telephone ringing. The family attacks the house. The house attacks the family. The family attacks each other. And everybody wants to destroy the whole thing and start all over again.
Nohilly’s message seems to be that you can’t leave; you can’t start all over again; you’re stuck. No matter how far you try to run, you are part of your family. I kind of agree with all that, having tried to leave my own family only to discover it was inside me. The part of Nohilly’s message that I don’t agree with is that people never change.
Blood from a Stone is at times hilarious. The characters are sympathetic—particularly Gordon Clapp’s father character, who attends anger management classes at the behest of his girlfriend (yes, he has a girlfriend and still lives with his wife, because “We are family!”) and brings his son ice cream in the middle of the night. Although the mother is a shrew (heavy understatement) toward her husband, she switches almost schizophrenically into a nurturing mother to her older son and her dead cat. And, many times, I felt delight.
Why? Because I came from a family not too dissimilar . . . and I’ve changed. People do change. Even if Nohilly doesn’t believe it’s possible, he must be changed because he’s written delight into this play filled with misery and violence.
Which brings me back to these incredible books I’ve been editing. What they have in common is a bird’s eye view of the human condition, and from a distance, there is magnificent delight. And this is what can change: our vision, our perspective. I believe Nohilly has this vision just to have written this play. This vision is something you have to work at. You have to decide to be quiet enough to see the whole picture. I don’t know how it happened for me. Maybe it was all that 3 a.m. meditating. And who knows if it’ll last. But last night watching this play, I felt delight!
There is delight in the fact that we little humans play these plays. There is delight that a man then writes it into a play and then other people, actors, play the roles. There is delight that other people come to watch all this playmaking. There is a delight in being a messy human being and getting to do this stuff. No, we can never leave home; but yes, yes, yes, we can see home differently.
Blood from a Stone, directed by Scott Elliot, with a set that functions as a cast member by Derek McLane, is running at the Acorn Theater, 410 W. 42 St., (TheNewGroup.org), through February 19.