Vivienne Benesch and Deborah Salem Smith discuss “Love Alone”

Director Vivienne Benesch and playwright Deborah Salem Smith discuss staging the regional premiere of Love Alone at PlayMakers.

Vivienne Benesch & Deborah Salem Smith

VB: My previous productions at PlayMakers were In The Next Room by Sarah Ruhl and Red by John Logan. Both are exceptional contemporary plays, but both are set in the past and explore either historical characters (Rothko) or inventions (the vibrator). One of the things I’m most looking forward to about Love Alone is working on an amazing new play about now, about people just like us.

DSS:  Well, one thing we all have in common is that everyone will be a patient at some point.  In light of that truth, this play takes on one of my personal fears. A character loses her partner of 20 years––so I confront that possibility through fiction. The story begins when a routine hospital surgery goes tragically wrong, then tracks the emotional and legal aftermath for both the victim’s and the doctor’s families. I focus on four characters, and how fiercely they love whomever they love. A marriage in one case; a mother-daughter relationship in another. The title of my play comes from an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem that begins “love is not all.”  But then, of course, the poem goes on to prove––when we really must choose what we care most about––love is all.

VB: Love Alone confronts emotional and ethical dilemmas that are extremely topical and timely. Did you mean to write something so “today”?

DSS: To be honest, not really!  [Laughter.]  I write a play out of personal hunger for a topic. And sometimes it happens to land at a moment when our communities are debating these same ideas––so this play happens to arrive as we debate these essential questions. Should laws protect doctors who want to apologize? How should we reform our health care system? Do lawsuits empower victims and thus aid the grieving process? Or does a lawsuit disrupt that process?  Does forgiveness require remorse or an apology by the offender?  

VB: It’s very rare to see a play (or film or TV show) using malpractice as an anchor for the plot that is not exclusively told from one “side” or the other.

DSS: I’m drawn to stories that let audiences bear witness to the humanness of every person involved––where your sympathy bubbles up unexpectedly, where there are no black and white answers. 

VB: You certainly accomplish that in Love Alone. Audiences can identify with the compelling struggles of all the characters––the family of the deceased and the doctor who was charged with her care. The play is ultimately about the process of grieving and forgiveness—between mother and daughter, husband and wife, doctor and patient. And you manage to make it simultaneously compassionate, unsentimental, heartbreaking, and even funny!

DSS: Of course it’s certainly a play where people are journeying through grief, but there also has to be very real joy. Even in our hardest hours we experience a range of complex feelings. There can be laughter at a funeral. There can be loneliness at a wedding. So it was essential to write some big, joyous scenes into the story.

VB: Let’s not give away any more than that for now!  What about doing Love Alone at PlayMakers makes you most excited?

DSS: I’m coming home. I was inspired to write about forgiveness because of a powerful choice my beloved grandmother made. She lived on a farm in Burnsville, North Carolina. And I grew up in Charlotte. I left North Carolina after high school. So it’s exciting to return home to share my play in this place, where I still have so many friends and family members. 

VB: Well, I can’t wait for the discussions this story is going to ignite. The Triangle community has such an incredible intellectual presence to engage with the issues of Love Alone. With the wonderful group of creative artists we’ve assembled and rehearsals underway, I can’t wait for PlayMakers audiences to join us!

Deborah Salem Smith grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is now the playwright-in-residence at Trinity Repertory Company, in Providence, Rhode Island. Love Alonepremiered at Trinity Rep, and received an Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award as well as an Honorable Mention by the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award.
Vivienne is in her tenth season as Artistic Director of the renowned Chautauqua Theater Company and Conservatory. Recently she directed a highly acclaimed re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet featuring Chautauqua, New York’s symphony, theatre, opera and dance companies.She previously directed In The Next Room (or the vibrator play) by Sarah Ruhl and Redby John Logan at PlayMakers.