Drifting Stars and Unfamiliar Skies


They say that playwrights shouldn’t write about their own plays. At least, I think they do. If they don’t, they should. The perception of the playwright as an all-knowing god is perhaps a misguided one. At least for me it is. The truth of the matter is that every revelation and discovery the audience experiences was also at one point felt by the playwright. Sometimes it feels as if I am just as much a passenger along for the ride as you are. My experience was just slightly more interactive. But, that aside, let’s talk about “The Dying of Ida Greene.”

“The Dying of Ida Greene” began two years ago with image and word, neither of which exist in the current drafts of the play. In fact, the only things that remain of the early drafts are the names of the characters. It wasn’t until Pavel turned his face to the sky and began talking about the stars that the play truly began to take shape. Even then, I wasn’t quite sure what the point of it all was. It wasn’t until I heard my wife describe the play to a friend of ours that I came to realize: more than anything, “The Dying of Ida Greene” has become an exploration of the ways in which people change. When does this kind of change happen? Where does it start? How do we move on after it’s all over?

Ida: There are so many.
Pavel: Huh?
Ida: Stars. I never saw this many growing up. The city lights choked them out. But out here it’s so…
Pavel: Bright?
Ida: Filled with light. A symphony of stars playing music to the sky. Pinpricks marking the boundaries of the infinite.
Pavel: They’re moving, you know. Drifting apart imperceptibly.
Ida: Stars are such lonely creatures.
Pavel: They all have their satellites.

We perceive stars as far distant beings. Immortals striding across time with abandon. But stars are born, live, and die the same as us. They develop bonds with some stars, drift away from others, bear children in the warmth of their orbit. The life of a star is not that different from our own, it just seems grander because it is bigger than we are. The field of astronomy that interested me the most in the creation of “The Dying of Ida Greene” was that of stellar drift, the process by which all stellar bodies—pardon the repetition—drift through space. It is largely imperceptible, changing the constellations slowly over time, and we only take notice after the fact when we pause and look up into an unfamiliar sky.

It is beneath such skies that we find Ida Greene, looking up—or rather back—at her life to find that it—and the people in it—are no longer the same. It’s a story about how we cope with such change, when we suddenly realize that everything we’ve considered normal is gone. It’s a story about finding a new normal in the wake of upheaval. It’s a story about finding the ones we love, holding on for dear life, and riding out the storms of change together.

Blog post written by Michael Tobin