A U T H O R ' S N O T E :
THROUGH A NOT-SO-DISTANT MIRROR
This musical history play provides a fresh lens for current conversations on racial and class inequality, and the distorting influence of the news media – as well as for the newly-emergent disintegration of consensus reality.
The play’s emotionally-driven story makes use of advanced 21st century perspectives on trauma and PTSD – while modeling survivorship, hope, and healing.
WHAT MAKES THIS HISTORY PLAY RELEVANT TO TODAY
The compelling real-life story centers on a strong complex female protagonist who isn't looking for romance, and who eventually discovers she is the only one who can rescue herself.
Her story reveals:
How our identities are shaped far beyond our expectations by social pressures, including the news media.
How our personal and political allegiances can compel us to support agendas 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 underlying subject matter – the fluidity of identity required to survive extreme trauma, including trauma-bonding and identification with violent perpetrators – speaks to the psychological and spiritual dilemmas of survivors of child abuse, domestic violence, military combat, extremist religious and political cults, and human trafficking.
THE DISINTEGRATION OF CONSENSUS REALITY
In the same way the 1960s didn’t start until after the assassination of Kennedy, and the 1970s didn’t really begin until after Watergate, the 21st century is only now just starting as it pushes into its 3rd decade, leaving the pre-Trump and pre-COVID world behind – forcing us in The Arts to redefine “Who are we now?” in this new century.
The play explores a newly-emerging theme – the disintegration of consensus reality – the end of our once-universal and once-dependable shared reality. This theme is illuminated BEYOND the identity-confusion of the central character. The play’s meta-theater story structure and stagecraft artfully blur the play’s storyworld-reality and the theater-space-reality in a way that guides its spectators to find no opposition between being challenged and being entertained.
AMBIGUITY & ETHICAL UNCERTAINTY
As the characters grapple with their shifting needs and changing beliefs, their apparent innocence, guilt and/or complicity are unexpectedly rearranged. Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
COMEDY in the midst of TRAGEDY
While never being glib or camp, and although it seems unlikely, the show strategically utilizes a great deal of absurdity/humor/comedy.
Beyond repeatedly dissolving the boundaries between the play’s storyworld reality and the everyday reality of the theater house, the play also expresses its meta-theater proposition directly in the show’s text:
Politics as theater; News media as theater; Militant guerilla theater as political tool
The criminal justice and mental health systems as theater
A play within the play (Act 2, Sc. 14 & 15)
Addressing audiences beyond the fourth wall yet maintaining storyworld continuity
The meta-theater commentary jumps up to meta-art commentary (Act 1, Sc. 13)
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. Beyond its time-specific foundation, the score draws on a wide range of musical influences – from shoe-gaze/slowcore, funk and soul, 19th century spirituals, to minimalist/serialist compositions. Stylistically the music acknowledges the "generation gap" by having the parents’ characters occasionally dip into riffs and vamps with traditional 20th century musical theater motifs.
INCLUSIVE CAST & TEAM
Although the race and gender of the historical characters are fixed, ANY performer may portray ANY role. For example, in this “alternative identity musical” the role of Randolph Hearst, Patty’s father, could be played by a Norm Lewis- or a Wayne Brady-type (Black). Or, the doubling role of Walter Cronkite and F. Lee Baily could be played by a Rosie O’Donnell- or a Cherry Jones-type (female). Or the role of Catherine Hearst could be played by an Alexandra Billings- or an Eddie Izzard-type (transgender person). Each character’s role can/should/must be cast without the obligation to conform to a character’s historical race, gender or LGBTQ+ identity.
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. Dr. Schwartz continues to serve as the psychological consultant to the play.
( * Winner of the prestigious 2017 International Sandor Ferenczi Prize, from ISST&D:
The International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation )
Crafted as an emotionally immersive theatrical experience for a diverse range of audiences – including non-traditional theatergoers – ultimately IMAGINARY GIRL is of survival, self-discovery and self-determination, as its historic female protagonist triumphantly overcomes seemingly impossible internal and external obstacles.
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)
Patty – like all teenagers – is uncertain about her identity 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 The Unites States of America.
Patty is forced to tape-record her own audio ransom note outlining the SLA’s impossible 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 sympathetic to the struggle of the have-nots – points out how “a perfect world” can be 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 rich man’s game.
The SLA wants to piggyback on the Hearst family’s wealth and fame to further their revolution – and it’s working.
At the SLA safehouse Patty is still being held captive in the closet. The SLA’s leader – “General” Cinque – and his comrades us military grade “mind-control” – combining physical and psychological assault, food and sensory deprivation, and strategic indoctrination rhetoric – to methodically deconstruct and reprogram Patty’s 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 (that sets up her later redemption).
As the media circus, and the FBI and manhunt for Patty’s 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 the reality of her sovereign sense of self has the SLA casting her in a central role in the revolution.
Now forced to choose between joining the SLA or be executed, Patty “chooses” survival. Under the unbearable psychological stress, she surrenders her former identity and takes up the only available alternate – Patty transforms from naïve teenage rich girl into Tania,
a “willing” and committed revolutionary solider.
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 lies he printed with faked photographs in his own newspapers.
For the first time since her abduction, Patty’s parents and the spellbound public see her in the infamous loop of halting bank robbery surveillance footage that is broadcast over-and-over all around the world. She wields a military assault-rifle, robbing a bank right alongside her fellow revolutionaries.
And with that, Patty crosses the point of no return.
As the mystery deepens, Patty’s parents have contrasting responses to the uncertainty and self-blame they feel. The news media speculates on Patty’s guilt or innocence, and whether or not she was “in on” her own kidnapping. Public opinion shifts decidedly against her, as she seemingly transforms from an innocent victim into a fugitive outlaw in front of our eyes.
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 programing and a spray of machine-gun fire. After abandoning their now-recognizable van, the SLA needs new wheels. Patty and the SLA carjack a teenager who is unexpectedly delighted to be joyriding with his own world-famous captors.
The address on a parking ticket found inside the SLA’s 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 set on fire 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.
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 last two remaining SLA members at their new hideout, Patty is arrested and taken to jail – reigniting the international media frenzy. When 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 a ridiculous absurd farce.
While all criminal trials are battles of competing narratives, Patty’s courtroom drama claims contradictory positions on the stability of human identity under traumatic stress – placing freewill itself on trial.
In the courtroom, her bank robbery defense of “brainwashing” is mocked by the federal prosecutors, and rejected by the jury who ironically echo Patty’s feelings of being unfairly coerced. She’s found guilty, convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Escorted to prison, Patty sings a lament of how she no longer has any 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 to exchange an admission of guilt for a shorter prison sentence, Patty refuses to barter away the last of her core innocence. She declares she would rather “sit and wait in the silence of her innocence.” She’d 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 emotional and spiritual sovereignty.
After serving two years, an intervention by President Carter frees Patty from prison. She sings her 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.
Set in 1974, the political kidnapping of 19-year-old Patty Hearst holds the world spellbound as she seemingly changes from an innocent victim into a fugitive outlaw in front of our eyes. 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.
IMAGINARY GIRL: The Occupation of Patty Hearst – book, lyrics & music © 2020 Leonard Dolivio Cetrangolo