During their time at Bowdoin, Sam Plattus ’12, Jill Eddy ’12 and Nate Houran ’13 often discussed their shared desire to write and perform a play about crime. The story, they agreed, would be loosely based on The Tragedy of Macbeth, one of their favorite plays, and on two of their favorite miscreants, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
While as students they never found the time to work on the project, this summer all three were at points in their careers where they could come together. The play they created, Holler: An Appalachian Tragedy, will debut at the PortFringe theater festival in Portland on June 27 and 28. Eddy wrote the script and composed the music. Plattus is directing the production. Houran and Eddy play the two main characters: MacCoy, a low-level drug dealer in his early 20s, and his teenage wife, Little Lady.
“It is my sincerest wish that Holler is a piece of ‘active theater’ that makes people ask questions, that makes people uncomfortable sometimes, that’s difficult, that not easy to digest immediately,” Eddy wrote in an email.
The play is set in a town in Appalachia; holler is a general term for a small community in the mountains. The storyline follows MacCoy and Little Lady as they jump the gun on a prophesy MacCoy receives from three unusual beings. The spirit-like women tell MacCoy that very soon he will rise in status in his crime family. “Much like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, [MacCoy] and his wife decide that soon is not soon enough, and they take matters into their own hands and make it happen,” Plattus said, speaking by phone from Bar Harbor where the three alumni are based at the moment. “There’s an impetus the two of them have because they’re so young. If good things are going to happen, they have to happen now.”
Plattus mentioned how intrigued he is by the frequency in which crimes and the people who commit them appear in American folk legends. “It really speaks to our culture that we mythologize criminals [e.g., Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Bonnie and Clyde]. It’s the idea that people are looking to live fiercely independent lives beyond the normal constraint of the law,” he said. “Holler was a way for us to write our own American folk legend and to explore the trope of the criminal couple.”
For Eddy, the play was a chance to explore issues involving women and violence. “What does it mean to enact, observe or accept violence against women? And what does it mean to be a woman enacting violence?” she asked. Eddy also created a complicated, contradictory character in Little Lady. “She’s calculating, manipulative, smart as hell. She kills in cold blood, but she can also be incredibly loving and fiercely protective,” she said. “Sometimes she’s childlike, sometimes she’s seductive; she’s a very complicated person. And that’s what we don’t get enough of from female characters in the canon.”
Setting the play in Appalachia also accorded with the alumni’s interest in American folk lore and mythology. “Appalachia is a really powerful place in the American collective consciousness,” Plattus said. “It is a heavily mythologized part of the country.” This spring, he and Eddy drove around eastern Kentucky for three weeks to take in the countryside and people. Both were affected by the dichotomy they observed. On one hand, the land iss beautiful, the people warm, and the region rich with history and culture, Plattus said. Yet the population also struggles with an epidemic of prescription drug abuse and an uncertain future based on the declining coal industry. Eddy wove these social issues into the play.
The three alumni were able to converge in Maine this spring and summer because of fortuitous schedules. Eddy had just wrapped up a New York City show. Houran recently graduated from The National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Plattus said he retreats to Mt. Desert Island when he can because it’s an area he and his family visited for years. “I know the island pretty well,” he said. “It’s a place I go to clear my head, get some writing down and get focused.”
After performing Holler in Portland, the team would like to do a longer run of the piece — possibly in Maine, possibly in New York. They are in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise $4,000 to support a future for the play.
Eddy said the realization of the show now has been “so rewarding,” because the roots of the production began several years ago in college. “Doing this show with [Nate and Sam], doing it in Maine — it really feels like coming home,” she said.