Entries in Bombshells (1)



Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith returns to Milwaukee at Renaissance Theaterworks in a enthralling production of Honour. This 1995 award winning play from the Melbourne based playwright follows in the footsteps of the Milwaukee Rep’s selection of last season’s Bombshells. Each play focuses distinctly on women at different stages in their lives. While Honour may discuss the dissolution of a 32-year-old marriage in crisis, the play also speaks to the generational roles women encounter and organic truths. 

Milwaukee favorite Laura Gordon debuts at Renaissance playing the title character, Honor, an award winning poet who succumbs to living for her husband, Gus, and daughter, Sophie. American Players Theatre actor Brain Mani addresses Gus, acclaimed as one of the ten top thinkers in the country, a renowned journalist. Who in a very short time falls head over heals for the brilliant career woman, Claudia, although half his age.

Claudia, delightfully intelligent if unaware of her own motives and played by newcomer Greta Wohlrabe, flatters and seduces Gus because of a deep psychological hunger in her heart. Yet, Claudia admires Gus’ wife Honor, for her own gifted writing accomplished before Honor was married. The irrepressible actor Karen Estrada comes to the stage as Sophie, a daughter immersing herself in her parent’s security while failing to meet their expectations as a college student, lost in her father’s intellectual success.

Murray-Smith’s play, much more than a two-hour evening revisiting long-term marriage, reveals greater depths. And presents the premise that it might be better to be individually responsible for the care and feeding of one’s own personal growth over a lifetime. No one person can rely or depend on another to do this for them as they mature. When this happens, and one submerges a life into another’s, as Honor does with Gus and Sophie, or Sophie in her parents, or Gus very quickly into Claudia’s, that person and the surrounding people can psychologically struggle and may fail, too.   

This premise reflects the timeless cycles in nature. Observed every year over centuries. Stop watering or exposing a plant to light, and it dies. Stop watering or nurturing a human body or soul, and it falters and may eventually die, too. Over water or giving too much light, and a plant dies as well. Most individuals only relate these truths to an organism or physical body, yet is applies to relationships, human minds and their spirits.

Without exposing all the surprising dialogue and events in the Renaissance performance of Honour, each character eventually needs to take responsibility for their own watering and care, including the failure or success that follows. Other people in a person’s life, especially those dear and surrounding another, may certainly accompany, advise, care for, encourage, enjoy, love, support, sympathize and watch over them without either criticizing, ignoring, living through them, patronizing or smothering another. This applies whether a mother to her children, partner to partner, spouse to spouse, child to parent or friend to friend. Perhaps even colleague to colleague.

While previous historical decades may have placed a completely sacrificial role onto the woman in life or relationships/marriage that was then seen as a man’s innate privilege to accept, contemporary women may wish to reverse/revise this status quo to equally destroy love’s delicate balance. One could be called to commit in bringing out each person’s best self with every relationship. An individual can only do this when they are at an optimal personal health, taking care of themselves. Not self-absorbed but through the thought of loving other persons as they ultimately would themselves. A delicate balance in love that could also be unreturned. 

Observing these ideas through the characters inhabiting the multi-layered play Honour, the play speaks to each character abandoning their own nurturing that leaves them vulnerable along with the people they love. They become distressed, other than whom they were meant to be. Until adversity strikes, and then suddenly some blossom into a fragile seedling and expose a personal honour that accompanies coping with adversity. Unfortunately, the play may comment on a sad, social affliction: adversity or tragedy can spur personal growth, rising from dead ground (metaphorical and real) like a plant that may come back to life when suddenly watered by someone or something else. Like nature, new life rises from the hard, unmoving soil only with courage, determination and tender care if and when possible. Other times it is lost and finds another path.   

Perhaps those in the audience will respect that important principle: to ignore personal health and growth could ultimately lead to certain failure in other areas of life. A complex configuration portrayed in Murray-Smith’s play. Only individuals emotionally centered and somewhat insightful themselves can effectively transplant growth and love to others around them. Watch another individual carefully bloom into their own beautiful, flowering spirits, whether children, friends, partners or spouses, while they continue to do so as well. The laws in nature and human beings will prove this timeless truth. Venture into Honour’s world turned upside down and muse over this thought provoking play. Be intelligently and thoroughly entertained by Renaissance Theaterworks.

Renaissance Theaterworks presents Honour at the Broadway Theatre Center through April 15. For tickets or information call; 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.  by Peggy Sue Dunigan