A U T H O R ' S   N O T E :


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.

The story reveals:

  •      How our identities are shaped, far beyond our expectations, by coercive                        social pressures, including the media


  •      How our personal and political allegiances can turn against our own best interests


  •      How all conflicts – internal, interpersonal and political – are battles of competing            narratives, battles of competing versions of reality.

This sung-through musical's theatrical journey is in deep conversation with today’s social and political issues of racial injustice and class inequality within the script’s moral conflicts and political contradictions. It presents new perspectives on the psychology of trauma and survivorship, providing a fresh lens for examining the current challenges facing the public and policymakers, including the psychological pressure put upon citizens to vote against their own self-interests.


Crafted as a multileveled theatrical experience for a diverse range of audiences – including non-traditional theatergoers – the play’s highest objective is to guide its spectators to find no opposition between being engaged, being challenged, and being entertained.


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.

S Y N O P S I S 

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.

                                                                 ACT ONE


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.               

                                                            ACT TWO


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