A U T H O R ' S N O T E :
THROUGH A NOT-SO-DISTANT MIRROR
THE PLAY IS IN DEEP CONVERSATION WITH CURRENT SOCIAL & POLITICAL ISSUES
Part psychological thriller, part heartbreaking drama, part spectacular farce, this musical history play provides a fresh lens onto the intersections of racial injustice, class inequality, social unrest & media sensationalism; and it illuminates unexplored 21st century perspectives on trauma, “coerced perpetration” & PTSD, while modeling hope and survivorship.
With the theme of IDENTITY at its core, IMAGINARY GIRL explores current socio-political challenges, from the legal dilemmas and moral responsibilities of victims of human trafficking to the psychological pressure put upon impoverished US citizens to support campaigns to defund their own access to healthcare and social reforms.
WHAT MAKES THIS HISTORY PLAY RELEVANT TO TODAY
This compelling REAL-LIFE STORY centers on a STRONG COMPLEX FEMALE PROTAGONIST who isn't looking for romance, and she discovers she can only be rescued by herself.
The script’s MORAL CONFLICTS & POLITICAL CONTRADICTIONS are exceptionally relevant
to today’s audiences -- it explores:
How our identities are shaped, far beyond our expectations, by coercive social pressures including the media;
How our personal and political allegiances can be twisted against our own best interests;
HOW ALL CONFLICTS – internal, interpersonal, and political – ARE BATTLES OF COMPETING NARRATIVES… BATTLES OF COMPETING VERSIONS OF REALITY.
IMAGINARY GIRL’s subject matter – the fluidity of identity required to survive extreme trauma and coercion, including trauma-bonding and identification with violent perpetrators – speaks to the psychological and spiritual dilemmas of survivors of child abuse, domestic violence, extremist cults, military combat, child soldiers, and human trafficking.
As an alternative identity musical, the question of “Who am I really?” and the mutability of IDENTITY is thoughtfully examined, questioned, and new understandings are illuminated.
The play begs the question: “Aren’t we all in a never-ending battle between who we are
and who we are not?”
Politics as theater
Guerilla theater as a political tool
Media sensationalism/exploitation as theater
The criminal justice system as theater
A play within the play (Act 2, Sc. 14 & 15)
Confronting audiences beyond the fourth wall yet maintaining storyworld continuity
At one point, the meta-theater commentary jumps up to meta-art commentary (Act 1, Sc. 13)
The characters' apparent innocence and guilt revolve as they grapple with their changing intentions and needs, along with the shifting perceptions and judgements of other characters – fair is foul, and foul is fair.
THE DISINTEGRATION OF CONSENSUS REALITY
As we move into the 3rd decade of the 21st century, this play investigates the newly urgent theme of the end of a once-universal and once-dependable objective “consensus reality.”
The play continually examines how all conflicts – internal, interpersonal and political – are battles of competing narratives / battles of COMPETING VERSIONS OF REALITY.
The project’s meta-theatre concept/construction seeks to artfully dissolve the boundary between the reality of the play’s storyworld and the reality of the theater space – between story and container, between actor and character, and between actor and non-actor. This artful blurring of the play’s storyworld-reality and the theater-space-reality extends across the production until it reaches a tipping point unique to each audience member – where they are forced to question the stability of their own personal felt-experience of “objective reality.”
COMEDY in the midst of TRAGEDY
While never being camp or glib, comic absurdity and farce are integrated across the show’s narrative journey.
The musical’s all-original score is anchored in the folk and rock of the play’s time period – the mid-1970s – which echoes through the indie/alt folk and rock of today. Stylistically it acknowledges the "generation gap" by having the parents’ characters skewing toward a traditional 20th century musical theater sensibility.
IMAGINARY GIRL was conceived while working as the principal editor of The Alchemy of Wolves and Sheep by Dr. H. L. Schwartz*. This book makes a significant contribution to the psychological trauma literature illuminating “brainwashing” “internalized perpetration” and “identification with the aggressor” along with the dynamics of how trauma victims are manipulated into betraying their own moral limits.
( * Winner of the prestigious 2017 International Sandor Ferenczi Prize, ISST&D; Routledge Press )
This all original musical is an uplifting story of survival, self-discovery and self-determination, as its historic female protagonist triumphantly overcomes seemingly impossible internal and external obstacles.
Crafted as a multileveled theatrical experience for a diverse range of audiences – including non-traditional theatergoers – IMAGINARY GIRL’s highest objective is to guide its spectators to find no opposition between being challenged and being entertained.
S Y N O P S I S
Part Psychological Thriller – Part Heartbreaking Drama – Part Spectacular Farce –
IMAGINARY GIRL: The Occupation of Patty Hearst (an alternative identity musical)
responsibly interprets the real-life story surrounding the 1974 political kidnapping of a 19-year-old media heiress by a ragtag militant group. After being held captive in a closet for 57 days, she emerges declaring her new identity as Tania and her “choice” to join her kidnappers' mission to overthrow the US government.
Patty – like all teenagers – is uncertain about what identity is her own beyond the role her parents and society have cast her to play.
On an otherwise-ordinary night, an unexpected knock at the door sends Patty down a dark rabbit hole when she is kidnapped by radical SLA “soldiers” who have declared war on “this fascist nation.”
Patty is forced to tape-record her own audio ransom note outlining the SLA’s unattainable demand to feed every poor person in California for a year – a price that exceeds even the wealth of the Hearst family and Hearst corporation combined.
This political kidnapping is the top news story, and the recording of Patty’s plea for help is broadcast around the world on radio and television. Patty’s father, Mr. Hearst – who is somewhat sympathetic to the struggle of the have-nots – points out how “a perfect world” is one of the most horrible things ever demanded.
When thousands of people line up for the hastily arranged food-ransom-give-away, the unexpectedly large and angry crowd descends into a full-scale riot. As the riot unfolds in “slow-motion” a figure steps forward and confronts Mrs. Hearst on how the poor are pawns (again) in the right man’s game.
The SLA wants to use the Hearst family’s wealth and fame to fuel their revolution – and it is working.
While Patty is held captive inside a closet for weeks, the SLA’s leader – General Field Marshal Cinque – and his comrades employ military grade “mind-control” – combing assault trauma, food and sensory deprivation, covert drug dosing and strident indoctrination rhetoric – to shrewdly deconstruct and reprogram her belief system.
When the SLA secretly slips Patty LSD, it sends her on a vertiginous psychedelic journey with dark passages where she encounters her dead grandparents who offer her cryptic clues for her survival – and for her only chance of redemption.
As the media circus, and the FBI and manhunt for the kidnappers, intensify, the SLA releases more tape-recordings of Patty’s own voice. Replayed on TV and radio, she spells out her kidnappers’ increasingly bizarre demands, along with a manifesto of their radical political agenda, and her growing sympathy for her captor’s positions. The brainwashing assault on her understanding of reality is working.
Now when the “choice” to join the SLA or be executed is forced upon her, Patty “chooses” survival. Under the unbearable psychological stress of coercive mind-control, Patty surrenders her former identity and takes up the only available alternate – she transforms into Tania, a “willing” and committed militant revolutionary.
The SLA understands politics is a battle of narratives, a battle of competing realities. They strategically stage guerilla theatre using loaded guns to foment a new civil war to reform society. This politics-as-theater approach is a strange echo of Patty’s grandfather, the legendary William Randolph Hearst, who successfully leveraged America into The Spanish American War with wholesale fictions he printed (with faked photographs) in his own newspapers.
The first time Patty’s parents, and the spellbound public, see her since her abduction – she wields a military assault-rifle right alongside her fellow revolutionaries – on a loop of bank surveillance footage that’s broadcast over-and-over around the world…
…as Patty crosses the point of no return.
The media’s speculation intensifies as journalists try to make sense of what’s happening. Public opinion shifts decidedly against Patty as she seemingly transforms from an innocent victim into a fugitive outlaw in front of our eyes. As the mystery deepens, her parents have contrasting responses to the uncertainty and guilt they feel.
Patty is now a fugitive on the run with the SLA. When two of her comrades are caught shoplifting, Patty rescues them with zombie-like programmed reflexes and a spray of machine-gun fire. After abandoning their recognizable van, the SLA needs new wheels. Patty and the SLA carjack a teenager who is unexpectedly delighted to be joyriding with his world-famous captors.
The address on a parking ticket left inside their abandoned van leads the FBI to the street outside the SLA’s hideout. The world watches live on TV as hundreds of SWAT commandos, FBI agents and LAPD officers surround the SLA hideout. This is the first time anything like this event is broadcast live on TV while it happens. Mr. and Mrs. Hearst watch on television in their home. Patty and her two comrades watch from a nearby motel room. The standoff becomes a shootout and then escalates into an explosive battle – ending only after the hideout is engulfed in flames and burned to the ground – all while Patty is presumed to be inside.
The SLA’s leader, Cinque, and the other SLA members are killed, burned alive. Patty now understands the SLA has been telling her the truth all along – the FBI does not want to rescue her, they want to kill her too.
After his death, Cinque exposes his humanity, through song, as he concedes the regrets of his unfulfilled dreams.
Patty and the two other surviving SLA members travel onward. Mr. and Mrs. Hearst sing of enduing a year-long stretch of aching uncertainty as Patty completely drops off the radar.
After the FBI discovers Patty and the remaining SLA members at their new hideout, Patty is arrested and taken to jail – reigniting the international media frenzy. Notified of her arrest, Mrs. Hearst begs Mr. Hearst: “Don’t say captured, say rescued.” While being booked and asked for her occupation, Patty replies: “urban guerilla.”
Patty is forced to go on trial for bank robbery. In the courtroom, the federal prosecutors and her buffoonish defense lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, spin the retelling of her heartbreaking tragedy into an absurdist farce.
While all criminal trials are battles of competing narratives, Patty’s courtroom drama claims contradictory positions on the nature of the human mind under traumatic stress – placing freewill itself on trial.
In court, her bank robbery defense of “brainwashing” is mocked by the federal prosecutors, and then rejected by the jury who ironically echo Patty’s feelings of being unfairly coerced. She’s found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Escorted to prison, Patty sings a lament of how she now has no identity at all – except for the false identities forced upon her. She’s only who everyone imagines her to be: she just an imaginary girl.
When asked for an admission of guilt in exchange for a shorter prison sentence, Patty refuses to barter away the last of her core innocence. She insists she would rather “sit and wait in the silence of her innocence.” She would rather serve her full sentence than damn herself for all time. Now Patty begins her second transfiguration, from a criminalized child soldier – coerced into self-betrayal – into her own liberator, reclaiming her self-possession and her emotional and spiritual sovereignty.
After serving two years in prison, Patty is released by the intervention of President Carter. She has the life-changing realization of why the jury condemned her – a compassionate awakening to the flaws and frailties of human nature.
Ultimately, IMAGINARY GIRL is an uplifting story of survival, self-discovery and self-determination, as its historic central figure triumphantly overcomes seemingly impossible internal and external obstacles.
IMAGINARY GIRL: The Occupation of Patty Hearst – book, lyrics & music © 2020 Leonard Dolivio Cetrangolo