The Closest Thing to a Family Reunion Short Summary

The Closest Thing to a Family Reunion Short Summary
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The power of the word is often much stronger than people would like to believe. It has even been said that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” The reason this is so is that words have the ability to convey meaning at several levels all at once. While two people may sound like they’re discussing something as silly as the donuts they had for breakfast, the hole in the center can become emblematic of the hole found in the center of their relationship. It is this kind of focus on the symbolism of words that makes it possible for sometimes very short plays to deliver impactful meaning to an audience. One of the one-act plays presented at the university this semester was called The Closest Thing to a Family Reunion written by Heather Rafferty. Although very short, the play was very moving, provoking thoughts of family relationships and the things that drive us apart or keep us together by focusing on a father and son’s involvement in the popular multiplayer online game World of Warcraft. The effectiveness of the play was its strong combination of acting, characters, story, and imagery.

            There were only three characters used in this play, one of them only appearing occasionally as a means of breaking up tension. Unfortunately, the actors were not identified in any playbill, so I cannot refer to them by name but only by character. The characters are indicated to be in their early 30s, the female Billy at 30 years old and her older brother Jay at 33, but both were played by younger college students. This fact gave the characters a sense of innocence that worked well with the text of the play. The characters are supposed to be seen in a situation where they should both be feeling somewhat vulnerable and unprotected as they attend their father’s funeral and this is conveyed well through the actors’ behaviors. The actors did a great job of listening to each other through each line, being very natural in their awkward physical closeness that suggested they were once emotionally close and don’t know now how to bridge the gap that has opened between them. At several points, the characters break down into childish name-calling and even small physical battles that remind us of small sibling fighting – again very effective with the younger college students in the key roles. This is especially effective given the age of the actors for the two principal parts as compared to the older look of the actor playing the part of the priest. While the priest adopted the almost expected role of the father figure, the remaining two characters were closely related siblings reuniting after a long separation and an even deeper gulf of hurt and resentment.

            This reinforces the most powerful aspect of this play – the text itself. While the dialogue is kept relatively simple and seemingly surface-oriented, there is a lot happening between the lines. The two characters are coming back together after one left for reasons never fully explained and the other, apparently joining the military as a means of eliminating his feelings of vulnerability, reveals he hasn’t changed that much. Both reveal resentment and feelings of guilt over the dissolution of their parents’ marriage years before and have only come together now because of their father’s recent death. They are here to witness their father’s funeral yet are the only ones in attendance who force them to interact more meaningfully with each other. While each blames the other for taking one or the other parent’s side in the divorce and Billy feels the blame for encouraging their father to take a job halfway around the world in order to support the kids’ swim team dreams, neither one had fully come to accept the reality of their family situation enough to move forward. This is reflected in their childish bantering and ‘black-and-white’ perspective on family dynamics. While Billy saw her father’s involvement in the video game as a means of getting away from his children and the responsibilities of family, Jay realizes that it was his means of trying to connect with his children through whatever media he could discover. While Jay blames Billy for begging their father to take the job that would move him away, Billy realizes there had always been a degree of separation within the family unit. Given a chance to finally air out these differences of perspective, the siblings are able to reach a place of peace and togetherness to honor their father’s memory.

            The stage setting does a lot to encourage a focus on these underlying aspects of the text. The play was performed on a bare stage with nothing but the characters moving around. A small table with an urn was placed near the center, which is where most of the action of the play takes place. Throughout the play, Jay takes time to peel World of Warcraft stickers from an adhesive sheet and affix them to the urn, even offering them to Billy a few times. Most of the time they are offered, Billy disdains them, obviously thinking of them as defaming the sanctity of death, but by the end of the play, she has accepted them as a symbol of her father’s love for his children. Because the stage is so bare, there is very little to distract the audience’s attention to the internal drama occurring within these two characters. When Billy finally joins Jay in attaching stickers to the urn, she is finally able to cross into the world Jay shared with his father and the family is on its way to being restored – at least to some degree.

            What this play seems to convey to the audience is the understanding that our childish impressions upon leaving the house are not necessarily as completely understood as we think they are. By trying to see things from another person’s perspective, which is only possible when you open up enough to talk with them, things that once seemed so hurtful can emerge as being just one more way that another person has tried to reach out and help.