VENICE Los Angeles Arts & Entertainment Magazine:
Daisy Foot, Playwright gives a Voice To Small Town America.
by Aysegul Sert. July 2005
WHEN THEY SPEAK OF RITA
There are no extravagant sets, no dramatic masks, no glamorous costumes in Daisy Foote’s plays. No. Instead, the playwright digs into the obscure depths of reality, aiming to find the darkness residing within us, the most complex of all of Nature’s children: humans. Foote’s plays are a mirror reflecting today’s people, with today’s struggles. The playwright is fascinated with small town American life.
What do Foote’s plays have in common? They all paint a striking portrait of temptation and survival with candid ease. Her plays aren’t solely character studies; in essence, they are explorations of what makes us human: our dreams, aspirations, and wounds. Foote writes about us allabout what makes us strong after the fall. And that’s precisely what makes her plays such gifts to the audience. She offers the viewer a slice of life, and isn’t this what theater ultimately aims at?
Foote’s play, “When They Speak of Rita travelled from New York to Southern California and is currently being performed at the Pacific Resident Theater in Venice. The play tells the story of Rita, a viral New Hampshire housewife (Joanna Daniels) who after years of marriage, motherhood, meals cooked and coffee brewed, intends to ascertain what she needs and wants from life, in an attempt to find her own identity. Rita aches to know who she truly is, wishing to break away from the roles accorded to her from her husband, son, and community.
“I am drawn to writing about small town life; I think there is a serious problem in America about class. We are becoming more and more divided. The gap is worsening, and we need to do something about it,” advocates the 41-year-old Foote. “These people were told that if they live a certain way, everything will work out. Well, they live roughly one paycheck after the other, and soon a disaster comes their way and then what? I think that’s especially very true in this country. In these towns, people’s needs are very basic. Life is becoming a struggle for them every day because it isn’t how they used to know it.”
“I write a lot about what I know. That may sound odd but it’s true,” says Foote when, asked what inspired her to write “When They Speak of Rite.” “I grew up in a small town in New England. Something came up in me that made me write this play; something from the past. I’m always fascinated with the idea of how we always get in the way of our own happiness. And that’s how Rita’s story grew in me.”
Inspiration, an essential nurturer for an artist’s soul, can be found in different places – a book, film, photograph, scent, or a lyric. For Daisy Foote it is right where she lives. “My husband (actor Tim Guinee) and I lived in the city until two years ago when I finally got my way to get a house about an hour and a half outside New York City,” says Foote with a tone of relief. “Because of what I write about, and because of the kind of people I write about, it has become increasingly important for me to live in a small town. The real story is always about a family in crisis. It is interesting to see that the more time I spend in this town, the more involved I get, and the more I write. I witness these eternal stories. They remind me of the stories of my youth, of the times when my dad took us to live in New England.”
Her last name is testament that Daisy knows a thing or two about the art of writing. After all, it is in her genes, in her blood. She is the daughter of legendary Horton Foote, the master of words who won Academy Awards for his screenplays To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) and Tender Mercies (19133), and received a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “The Young Man from Atlanta” (1995).
Says Foote about how her dad influenced the playwright in her: “I was thinking about it a few nights ago when I went to see a oneact play of his. My dad has a very distinct style and I do too, and I don’t think we are very alike in terms of theatricality. But I do think we both really enjoy people. And we both enjoy the stories that come out of the ordinary aspects of life. It is not essentially my father’s writing that I identify with as a playwright, but a lot of others’.”
The strength of “When They Speak of Rita” is the language. As a writer Foote distances her lines from metaphors; the story she tells is deeply rooted in reality. The fact that Foote succeeds in finding lyricism and beauty in what may seem to be the mundane today serves her as a tool to turn the daily into the intriguing. The viewer ends up caring about the characters and their tragedy.
“When I teach playwriting, the one thing I tell my students is ‘style is all well and good, but unless you are really good at it, and unless it really serves your play, it is often nothing but artifice,”‘ says Foote in ‘a determined voice. “There are certain playwrights who can do whatever they want with language and they can get away with it, because they are just masters, like Edward Albee, David Mamet or Sam Shepard. Language when used simply for the sake of language, all it does is show off. M characters in “When They Speak About Rita are ordinary people, which means they don’t talk like poets. Poetry can be found in real language. It has been a little bit of a curse for me because people have expectations when they go see a play about having flowery language but I, frankly, cannot stand it.”
Then in Foote’s view, is the best of kind of theater the one that is deeply rooted in reality?
“I think the best kind of theater is the one that tells a story. That’s my role as a playwright. I think it is an individual thing for every person to make up their own interpretation of what they see. I don’t like to identity what the audience is supposed to get from a performance because then people could think that I sat down to write the play with a certain idea in mind, which is not the case,” reveals Foote. “I’m very connected to a real sense of the world. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love the Irish playwrights so much because again the language is so won e u u 1 comes from a real place.”
The highlight of “When They Speak of Rita,” in my view, revealed itself in the final scene of the second act, which marks the last minute of the piece.
“Right before I graduated from high school I was having supper with my mother and father, my father asks me about my plans for the future. – .And then my mother says, ‘Maybe you’ll marry Asa’ So I nodded, and that was that. .. We got married. Then I got pregnant with Warren and every day this restless feeling in me would grow. I would sit in the kitchen and wait for something to happen. 1 would wait for an idea to come to me about what to do but it never came… When people see me now, when they speak of me, I know most of them talk about what a sad, foolish woman I am. And while that makes me want to hide in the house and avoid peopie, avoid their eyes, I don’t know how I’ll feel if they stop talking about me, if everything goes back to the way it was before… Some day, years from now, when I’m in the graveyard and someone happens to see my name on a gravestone. they’ll ask, ‘Rita Potter, who was Rita Potter?’ Then they’ll move on and my name will slip from their minds. And really it will be like I was never here at all… ”
Alas, it is true that we all have a terror of being invisible. When asked about how she came to write this final monologue, Foote replies: “Yes, being talked about and gossiped about are horrible but I think that the very worst thing is being invisible, that nobody cared. I think a lot about that. I was talking to a friend and I said to her, ‘Do you think anybody truly craves complete anonymity?’ I don’t think that any of us really do. The human animal is complicated that way. We all crave recognition.”
Daisy Foote’s play “When They Speak of Rita” is at the Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 Venice Blvd, in Venice, through August 7. Directed by Karen Landry, with Rachel Avery (Jeannie), Joanna Daniels (Rita), Scott Jackson (Warren), Michael Redfield (Jimmy) and Dan Verdin (Asa). Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $18-$23. For more information call (310) 822-8392, or visit www.pacificresidenttheatre.com