Much has been written about the inspiration for ideas and art. These stories communicate how the artist or thinker came to a realization. Often these stories are apocryphal, but they do explain where the artist was coming from. For Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro, the 72-year-old playwright of Huntington Theatre Company’s upcoming Before I Leave You, it was taking a tumble in the kitchen.
“For no real reason I felt this was the beginning of the end,” she says. “Four of my five characters are at the cusp of old age, when organs that one has never given any thought to suddenly begin to act up, when death might be just around the corner.”
Before I Leave You, let me assure you, is a comedy that tells the story of Emily, whose husband of 40 years suddenly takes a deep interest in his Asian roots, and whose novelist friend Jeremy has to contend with his sister Trish, an out-of-work actor.
“They’re in their late 50s and mid 60s,” says Alfaro. “They meet regularly for dinner, drop in unannounced at each other’s houses, tell each other secrets. They have known each other for years, but when a serious illness strikes one [member] of the group, it’s as if death sits down at the dining room table.”
Alfaro’s play has something unique about it that shouldn’t be unique: it’s set in Cambridge.
Harvard Square, to be specific. Many plays take place in New York and many others in small towns throughout the country, but not too many actually take place in Boston or Cambridge. Even plays performed here in those cities.
Since Alfaro’s lived in Cambridge for 40 years, she knows this ilk.
“The Cantabridgians in [the play] are all recognizable Harvard Square types—accomplished, neurotic and opinionated, but they also have their unique and deeply felt problems, based as they are on people (including myself) I’ve known for a very long time.”
Though in her long career as a playwright Alfaro has had many of her plays performed, Before I Leave You is her first major regional production. It began because she was a Huntington Theatre Playwriting Fellow, and during that time she developed what would became this play.
The play is now in the second week of rehearsals—“when the actors are busy memorizing their lines, and I am busy rewriting the lines they just memorized.”
What kind of lines does she write? Here’s an example from the character Jeremy:
“One day you’re in good health, the next—who knows? You hear of someone having his hips replaced or his arteries reamed, and you say to yourself, ‘Well, he’s 70.’ And then you think, in a few years I’ll be seventy.”
Remember: this is a comedy.
BEFORE I LEAVE YOU