Natural Life

Natural Life
by Eduardo Ivan Lopez
produced by T. Schreiber Studio
directed by Jake Turner
with Holly Heiser and Anna Holbrook

Eduardo Ivan Lopez’ harsh play Natural Life is based on the true story of a Midwestern death row inmate in the 1980’s. She chose not to continue the appeals process and to allow the state to execute her. A TV journalist covered her story as she awaited execution.

The character’s name is Claire McGreely; the program notes don’t tell us if this was the name of the actual person, and an internet search turns up nothing. She’s been convicted of murdering her husband. She’s contacted the journalist, Rita, to offer her exclusive access to her story.

Interviews between the prisoner and the writer are central to the script. Lopez makes extensive use of flashbacks to tell the convict’s biography.

Lopez has invented the subplots, or at least embellished on life. He shows us Rita with her boss in the TV newsroom. He also lets us be with her when she interviews the state governor, with whom she has a personal history. 

Lopez chronicles the events of Claire’s life well. The flashbacks have just the right weight in the script. They present Claire’s biography at a pace that seems never stalled or rushed. And the subplots give the story complexity, if they don’t exactly create a well-structured play.

The playwright’s sense of dialogue is sharp, but he peppers the lines too prodigally with obscenities. Claire and the people in her life use obscenities – one character tells Claire she has a filthy mouth – and that seems truthful. But Lopez has Rita and her boss use scatology as well. It would add complexity to the character of Rita if the vernaculars in her life had contrast, and Lopez has missed this opportunity.

Jake Turner’s direction is crisp and clear, with beats carefully defined. And the cast handles the demanding, emotionally violent material well. Holly Heiser avoids stereotyping Claire as the tough convict. As Rita, Anna Holbrook is interesting, but by making the character too hard she and her director have missed the opportunity to create a contrast with Claire.

Natural Life discusses justification. It presents McGreely’s crimes in the same tone as it presents the scheduled execution – impartially. Lopez’ talent is to present issues without arguing. Rita tells the governor that Rita’s husband deserved to die, and we’re left to agree or not as we see fit. The play doesn’t try to persuade us. Claire’s life has been horrendous, but we’re shown that her crimes – there are more than one – are horrendous as well. And so the play concerns matters of determinism and responsibility.

It’s a proper function of theater to chronicle actual events, and Lopez does well to make this contribution. We welcome a play that is so issue-based and intelligent, whatever its flaws.

Steve Capra
March 2016

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