Highmark Brewery Whurk Article

When great friends make great beer, good times are in store. That’s what this group of lifelong buddies is learning as they cut their teeth on a new business venture.

Tucked away in a Kings Highway strip off of Route 3 East is Stafford County’s newest corner of craft beer heaven: Highmark Brewery. Opened in early February, this 3,500 square-foot facility offers a brewery and tasting room, plus plenty of beer garden-style seating outdoors with an adjacent field. It was a cool Sunday afternoon when I made the trip to meet two of its co-owners, Chuck Rau and Brandon Newton. When I arrived, couples were lounging on wooden furniture outside, sunbathing as they enjoyed tasting flights. An open garage door near the bar allowed the interior to bathe in natural light and let in a soft breeze. I sat at a table, took in the relaxing, casual ambiance, and sipped on a Lone Wolf IPA, a pale ale with a spicy kick. It was one of Highmark’s six core offerings on tap, the rest being Freshwater Blonde, Blueberry Blonde, Blue Stone Kolsch, Highmark IPA, and River Rock Stout. Tasting notes from the bunch included common elements like citrus and hops, but also more notable ones like blueberry, chocolate, and ginger.

If you feel a laid-back, friendly atmosphere when you enter Highmark, it’s because that approach is at the core of the brewery’s existence. All of the owners and operators here are childhood friends and family from Fredericksburg. “We went to high school together, played baseball together,” Newton said. In fact, you could call Highmark a product of their artist collective. In addition to Rau and Newton, there are two other co-owners: Mark Thorsted, the tastemaker of the bunch, and Brad Birack, who covers logistics. Newton went on, “Mark started brewing some really good beer, it was his little home project. We all started brainstorming about getting a space and doing it larger scale.”

The design of the place is a minimalist’s dream. Newton, who is well-regarded for his oil paintings of local cityscapes and pastoral scenes, partnered with his wife to create the artwork and lettering adorning the interior. Across a prominent wall, the words “In pursuit of happiness” loom large, a motto that perfectly captures this communal space. On an opposite wall is the brewery’s logo, punctuated by two large stars, a staple of any self-respecting venue this side of the Mason-Dixon line. Between the inviting openness of the room and the blending of indoor and outdoor seating, there’s a low-key charm that’s often missing from your average bar. “We have freedom here to do what others sometimes can’t because they’re in downtown Fredericksburg,” said Rau. “I think we have some good space that we’re hoping to activate and have some fun.”

Brandon Newton

As for the location, Newton explained that they were looking for quite a while before settling on their Kings Highway digs. Things may look unassuming at the moment, but they have their eyes on future growth. With easy access from Route 3, ample parking, and relatively few neighbors, they anticipate collaborations with local artists, live music, food trucks, and potentially even an outdoor music festival. They already have their first concert under their belt as fellow Fredericksburg-native musician, Jay Starling of Love Canon, performed at their grand opening. Newton and Rau see it as their mission to push the Highmark brand beyond just the brewing business. After all, in the spirit of their familial atmosphere, all are welcome through their doors.

That ethos does bring up an interesting dilemma, however. Highmark is joining the ranks of a handful of microbreweries that have popped up around the greater Fredericksburg region in the last few years. As a new arrival, I wondered how they planned to establish a place within the already crowded local scene; I spied two crew members from Adventure Brewing Company, another popular brewery in Stafford, sitting at a nearby table. Nevertheless, Newton saw nothing to be alarmed about, saying, “They’ve been fast friends. We’ve needed help and they’ve offered advice when we needed it. Yeah, we’ve been really surprised to how welcoming they’ve been and it’s great. I feel like we have that ‘further together’ thing going with it.” He and Rau even went on to cite their friendship with Strangeways Brewing, a notable Richmond brewery expanding to Fredericksburg in the near future. It’s clear that the spirit among the local brewing community has been one of teamwork rather than cutthroat competition.

Even in its infancy, Highmark has been bustling. I was pleasantly surprised to see the high turnout during my visit, especially since Rau and Newton mentioned they had mostly been bringing in customers by word-of-mouth. The couple sitting at the next table over from me, both Fredericksburg locals and frequent patrons of other local breweries, Steve and Holly, decided to try out Highmark on a friend’s recommendation and were enjoying the offerings. When asked if they considered themselves craft beer enthusiasts, both having ordered a flight of all six beers on tap, Holly said, “I’m not a beer drinker and I love it.” To that, Steve retorted with a laugh, “I am a beer drinker and I love it.” If you can please both the novice and aficionado at the same time, you must be doing something right.

Highmark Brewery (390 Kings Hwy, Unit 107, Fredericksburg) will host a St. Patrick’s Day party on Friday, March 17 featuring live music, games, and food. Festivities start at 4 PM. Learn more at highmarkbrewery.com.

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Tales of the “Unemployable”: Being a Philosophy Major in our Career-centric Climate

 

“You won’t get a job with a major like that,” is something that senior philosophy major Briana Hutter has heard often during her four years at the University of Mary Washington. Hutter finds herself having to explain her choice in major a lot, but she doesn’t let it get to her.

 

There are many misconceptions surrounding her field in particular, like the most common assumption that students in the major can only aspire to be “teachers…or unemployed…or baristas,” said Hutter.

 

Though Hutter isn’t the only one trying to correct the general opinion on studying philosophy in college.

 

In fact, new research has come out recently disputing the prevalent “unemployment” conception. Last week, the publication PR Web published an article citing numerous findings by researchers debunking popular myths about the discipline.

 

One in particular was a recent study conducted by The Federal Reserve Bank of New York showing that in 2015 only five percent of philosophy majors were unemployed six months after graduation.

 

Another article, published the same week by Bloomberg claimed that philosophy majors were actually seeing their incomes increasing. “Beyond those with special technical skills, philosophy and public policy majors have also seen their earnings rise,” said Austin Weinstein, author of the article.

 

These findings show that the job market for philosophy majors could be much more open and receptive to this group of young thinkers than most would assume.

 

Hutter is one of many students rebelling against more practical considerations about choosing a “moneymaking” degree over a major they actually enjoy. Some would even go as far as to call these majors “useless”, which is something Hutter would adamantly disagree with.

 

But she admits that it wasn’t always a popular decision, especially when telling her parents during her first year at school.

 

“They initially were concerned that I wasn’t going to be a basic business major, but after, they realized it doesn’t matter what you major in. It just matters that you get that diploma. I would have a better time in college majoring in something I enjoyed studying,” said Hutter.

 

She’s still right about the enjoying herself part of that decision. Not many people get the opportunity to spend their days in pursuit of enlightened thought. This semester she’s decided to take a direct focus on the philosophy of western religion. Hutter spends her mornings discussing The Bible for her “Christian Beginnings” class and then she’s off to muse over “Death & Dying in Early Christianity”. When she’s not in class, Hutter is in the Simpson Library working on her thesis paper. In which, she discusses the cyclical universe, religious pluralism and nihilism.

 

Another obvious proponent of this academic course of study is UMW’s department chair, Craig Vasey, who had much to say about the negative discourse on the study of philosophy.

 

“It is a complete misconception. We had a career panel three weeks ago and two recent graduates (working as a technical writer/ consultant for Booze Allen and as Financial Director of the Kennedy School for Ethics at Georgetown) both told us that it is precisely their skills from philosophy that make them successful. They both credited their training in logic, and their ability to do research, to write well, and to think critically,” said Vasey.

 

“Paino was a philosophy major, by the way,” Vasey added, referring to the current president at the University of Mary Washington, Dr. Troy Paino.

 

Vasey might be right about the changing times, as more and more news publications have been buzzing over the resurgence of interest in philosophy.

 

A recent Forbes article entitled, “A Case For Majoring In Philosophy” spoke on the change in rhetoric surrounding the major. The Forbes contributor who wrote the article, Travis Chamberlain, was a proud philosophy major himself and even earned his Ph.D. in the subject. He wrote on the increasing interest in studying philosophy.

 

Chamberlain names another article in The Atlantic called, “The Earning Power of Philosophy Majors”, arguing that philosophy may be a good way to go in terms of real world benefits. The Atlantic article includes an impressive roster of very successful philosophy majors, including well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Peter Thiel.

 

But another philosophy major, Charlotte Ciobanu, believes that the field may be in jeopardy.

 

Ciobanu recently graduated from the University of California, Riverside with her BA in philosophy and is currently pursuing her Master’s in the discipline at the San Francisco State University. She currently teaches introductory undergraduate philosophy classes at her university.

 

She worries that, with the rampant misunderstandings about philosophy, departmental numbers could dwindle.

 

“It’s strange but much of the focus in academia has shifted to applied, practical knowledge–engineering, computer science, applied sciences. Philosophy explores the theoretical side of things. Philosophy of mathematics, of language, of science, all of these sub fields within the broader discipline of philosophy directly inform the way things like applied science are done,” said Ciobanu.

 

The one thing that remains unwavering is her dedication to the importance of philosophy.

 

“Everyone stands to benefit from studying philosophy–it will make you sharper, more capable of assessing and identifying good arguments, it will make you more articulate, more thoughtful. I have found it to be a very humbling discipline, in the sense that, I must remain vigilant in even assessing my own implicit biases, my own potentially bad arguments,” said Ciobanu.

 

In early March, the philosophy department at UMW held the aforementioned campus event where prospective students got to speak and interact with Vasey, philosophy and religion professors, and alumni. This on-campus gathering was a definitive move on the part of the department to attract more prospective philosophy students while also dispelling any misconceptions undeclared majors may have.

 

Some students begin cultivating their interest in philosophy even earlier than freshman year.

 

For Hutter, the bug bit her early on in high school. “I took a European history course and for the briefest of days we talked about existentialism and it got me hooked. Then, in AP English class we read Ayn Rand’s book Anthem and that completely changed my outlook on life and I wanted to be a philosophy major,” said Hutter.

 

It isn’t all a creative pursuit to her, as she uses the more practical aspects of her major at her part-time job in food service. Philosophy sharpens her empirical thinking skills and helps her anticipate people’s needs. But in a way, it has also imparted her with a passion for knowledge.

 

“Philosophy as a skill is literally a love of wisdom. So it gives you the skills to use logic and rationalize situations and organize the thought process in a way that isn’t taught in other majors. Other majors teach you specific job applicable skills where philosophy teaches you how to think effectively,” said Hutter.

Kathleen Kennedy Whurk Article

Kathleen Kennedy

Interview by Natalie Beyer
Issue 47 • January 2017 • Mechanicsville

What do you get when you combine textile sensibilities with traditional metalwork? This jack-of-all-trades conceptual artist intends to find out.

We often don’t give a second thought to keys as objects. We get them, give them away, swap them, make copies, give them back, and then they leave our minds forever. They go to some far-off land, an island of misfit items, home to orphaned socks and loose bobby bins. Seldom do we think of their functional and nostalgic power, but that is exactly what compelled artist Kathleen Kennedy to pay homage to these remarkably unremarkable objects in her latest installation piece: a chainmail pelt made entirely of keys. Entitled simply Pelt, it is being showcased this month in Material as Medium, the exhibition currently on display in Alexandria at the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s Target Gallery. Each featured artist uses the vernacular of textiles and fiber art, broadly interpreted into sculptural forms. The opening reception included a group discussion with the show’s juror, Aaron McIntosh. Both he and Kennedy teach at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, the institution where her love affair with sculpture first blossomed.

Kathleen Kennedy with her Pelt sculpture, a section of chainmail constructed with keys.

“I finished at VCU with my BFA in 2008. I studied metalsmithing and glass working there. After that, I moved to Seattle, Washington for about three years where I worked for a handful of different artists and really made the decision that art was something I was going to do.” Later, while in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kennedy spent several years experimenting with a variety of materials. She draws on these lessons when working today, finding inspiration from the many mediums she has mastered over time. Her hope is that she never finds herself limited in her artistic pursuits. “My students will often ask what I specialize in, like: What’s your thing? My answer is that I’m a generalist. I like to feel like I generalize in a little bit of everything. Specialize in nothing and try a little bit of everything.” Despite this outlook, Kennedy keeps glass and metal close to her heart. The manipulability and control she has in these elements offers a delightful juxtaposition between the hardness and softness. “Glass really seemed like this magical material to me and metal was almost a little bit of the opposite. Not opposite in that it wasn’t magical, but it wasn’t this fluid material. It was this structured, hard material that had so many possibilities to it, that just kind of stuck.”

Kennedy’s process is informed by the impressive power of nostalgia. Upon seeing Pelt up close for the first time, I discovered that one of its keys looked exactly like the key to my first car. During our interview, I confessed to her how it took me back to the excitement of getting my first set of wheels at the age of 16. This personal reaction pleased her, as she responded, “That’s what I really wanted, to be able to use this object that is so familiar to everybody. That you could look at that pelt and you could find the familiar in it.” Another aspect in many of Kennedy’s pieces is the sentimental tie to her family. While pursuing her MFA, she often used art to recall relatives back home in Virginia. Kennedy remembered missing her parents the most, but also that her feelings of separation were a source of inspiration. In one such sculpture, she stacked brass rings on a wall-mounted installation of a kitchen counter, echoing her father who would always take his wedding ring off to wash the dishes.

Pelt came together after months of accumulating keys, some coming from a small collection given to her by a late grandfather and others coming from the darkest recesses of eBay. Kennedy painstakingly set each link of the chainmail that binds together the outer layer. She made note to arrange each of key according to color and shape, creating a lush surface of steel and brass, the varied textures reflecting light much as thick fur would. Though at a distance they meld together into a flowing mass, each key retains its unique identity as a utilitarian object. “Keys come and go,” she mused, “They’re useful for their time and then we don’t need them anymore. But they’re always cut for that specific lock, for that specific place. That’s kind of what’s so special. Even the one that looks like that key to your first car, if you were to take it and put it in your first car, it’s not for that car. That’s the amazing, beautiful mystery to me.” Being identified as a pelt, rather than a more common article of clothing or home decor, is also significant. Simultaneously playing off of archaic textiles, medieval royalty, and fantasy images like those found in Game of Thrones, Kennedy explained, “I was originally seeing it as a blanket of keys, as this domestic comfort of keys. But when I finished it and had it up there, I was like, this isn’t a blanket. This is a skin. The skin of all of the places you’ve been.”

As a centerpiece of the show, draped dramatically off of a pedestal near the gallery entrance, Pelt commands the viewer’s attention. Despite resting below eye level, the intimate space allows the work’s presence to be that much more overwhelming. Other notable pieces from the show include the enigmatic quilt assemblage of Julia Gartrell’s Old ManLindsay A. Hall’s subdued yet provocatively hung Blinged Out, and Katie M. Westmoreland’s monochromatic embroidery Sift No. 4 (Traced). Together, the Material as Medium collection offers a compelling testament to the vitality of textiles. The sheer variety of forms, textures, and even interactivity is unmatched by other mediums, all qualities that are giving voice to a new generation of contemporary conceptual artists.

A gallery visitor viewing Julia Gartrell’s quilted sculpture, Old Man.

The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia Whurk Article

The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia

Interview by Natalie Beyer
Issue 46 • December 2016 • Fredericksburg

Racially motivated murder, biased police work, a community-wide cover-up—it was a story just waiting to be exposed, and that’s exactly what this retired reporter did.

“I was in the news business long enough to know when you’ve got a good story,” Jim Hall said as we sat on campus at the University of Mary Washington. This Fredericksburg resident was speaking of his authorial debut, The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia: Seeking Truth at Rattlesnake Mountain, an account of a troubling chapter in the Commonwealth’s not-so-distant past. We had met at the Hurley Convergence Center, mere feet from the archives used to conduct his research, before he was to present to UMW professor Claudine Ferrell’s upper-level history course. Hall had teamed up with Ferrell, herself well-versed in the history of the practice of lynching, while writing the book. Together, they worked to shed light on a local mystery that began almost 85 years ago.

 

The Last Lynching was a project of passion, beginning out of simple curiosity, but eventually growing into a mission to expose the truth behind a piece of small town folklore. A longtime writer for The Free Lance-Star, Hall had retired from newspaper journalism in 2013 and was toying with the idea of studying the regional history of lynching. Specifically, he wanted to document how local newspapers had reported lynching occurrences. In order to limit the scope of the project, Hall decided that he would review clippings from Virginia newspapers published up until 1930. That is, until he stumbled across the Shedrick Thompson case.

Thompson was a suspected kidnapper and rapist whose body was found, burned and mutilated, hanging from an apple tree in Fauquier County. The official cause of death: suicide. Though it had happened in 1932, two years past Hall’s self-imposed limit, something about the case enticed him to dig deeper. It had all the makings of a true-crime thriller: the kidnapping and rape of a prominent Southern belle known as Mamie Baxley, collaborative murder, police cover-ups, and the community’s collective keeping of dark secrets. Hall himself had to admit that broaching this topic would not only be difficult and sensitive, but virtually taboo. “Lynching is a weird subject,” Hall said, “It’s fascinating, but horrifying.”

One initial attraction Hall had for the story was the apparent lack of common sense applied to the investigation. “You know, if it looks like a rose, smells like a rose, it’s a rose,” Hall said, “and this case, it looked like a lynching, it was at the time that lynchings were being done, and it involved a crime—an alleged crime—for which lynchings occurred.” The more Hall sifted through coroner and police documents, the more complex and twisted the tale became. “There were a lot of elements that made it look like a lynching, yet the official version was suicide and that didn’t sit well. There was just something about that. It was like the good ol’ boys got away with it and the community covered it up for them.”

Hall faced many difficulties sourcing credible witnesses who were alive and willing to talk with him. Since so many years had passed, the best Hall could manage were descendants of the parties involved and neighbors of the Baxley family. Many did not want to speak about their family’s connection to the murder or cover-up. “There were people who wouldn’t be interviewed because of it,” Hall recounted. “There are descendants of those who perhaps were involved who wouldn’t be interviewed. It was a difficult process at times. I think there were seventeen people—Fauquier residents—who cooperated with me.” He had more luck when talking to younger residents who had grown up with the story as childhood lore, almost unaware that it actually happened. “There were plenty of people in Fauquier who knew about it, who had been told about it, who had grew up with this story and were happy to tell me what happened—what they heard happened. I think I made a good case for what happened based upon the stories of those who lived there.”

After he finished his manuscript, Hall found that the road to publication was not an easy one. “I got rejected three times,” he said with a raspy laugh. After passing the piece along to his historian friends for a bit of peer review, he approached numerous publishers before being accepted by The History Press based in Charleston, South Carolina. Though they were quite enthusiastic about the project, regional book markets have been less so. “The publisher has had a hard time placing the book in retail outlets in Warrenton because of the sensitive nature of the subject,” he acknowledged. “The museum at Warrenton has a very nice bookstore and gift shop. They wouldn’t carry it.” Though he expected pushback from the communities mentioned in the book, he felt a sense of journalistic duty to get the truth out, even if it didn’t paint a pretty picture. “There is a resistance still to the telling of the story. The argument made to me indirectly is, ‘Why are you retelling this sordid tale? Why are you bringing up this old story?’” Hall’s answer: “I’m not retelling this sordid tale. I’m telling this sordid tale for the first time because it’s never been laid out in its entirety. I don’t think anyone that I know of has made the case for what actually happened, and that is, a murder.”

The Last Lynching was officially released this past September, bringing to bear the historical justice that Shedrick Thompson and his family deserve. I was curious to know what was next for this new author. “I’m story-driven,” Hall said with a smile, “I want to be knocked over by a story and then I’ll spend the time that it takes to pursue it. But if it doesn’t sort of get me out of the chair, I’m stuck. So, I’m waiting. I hope that another story comes along that interests me.”

The Kettle Whurk Article

The Kettle

Interview by Natalie Beyer
Issue 44 • October 2016 • Staunton

To make a co-op performance space, mix one part vaudeville, one part burlesque, plenty of elbow grease, and a few sharp knives.

I first met Carmel Clavin in downtown Staunton at the By & By Café on Beverley Street. When I arrived, there was a man playing fiddle for people passing by on the sidewalk. Clavin showed up soon after with her fiery red hair piled on top of her head in a Frida Kahlo braid, complete with the adornment of large golden flowers. It occurred to me then that Clavin truly had her finger on the pulse of this small town, as she knew almost everyone in the coffee shop, from the baristas to the patrons — even the fiddler outside. The artistic oddities that take place between Beverley and Frederick Street seem to be what Clavin likes best about this locale. It’s no wonder that this Cleveland native has spent the last eight years of her life basking in the eccentric charm of Staunton.

Carmel Clavin

To say Clavin is a character would not only be an understatement, but a vast underestimate of her power. She is a woman of many tricks, both literally and figuratively. Clavin is an actress, singer, firebreather, belly dancer, and vaudeville aficionado. And now, she can add venue manager to that list with her newly founded co-op performance space called The Kettle. It could be considered the lovechild of Clavin’s previous venture, the Shenandoah Fringe Festival, and her sideshow troupe, Spectacle & Mirth. Clavin has always been drawn to the sheer variety of vaudeville and burlesque, and the festival served as a vehicle for such performers to showcase their talents. Held this past April, the ShenFringe debut was an overwhelming success featuring dozens of sold-out events at improvised spaces throughout downtown Staunton. Not wanting to lose that momentum, she decided to pursue a more permanent venue where future efforts could be headquartered.

It all started with an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds needed to jumpstart the project. Crowdfunding was a natural choice given the venue’s co-op structure, a model that Clavin has also used when advising other small business ventures in her day job at the Staunton Creative Community Fund. Tucked away above the Staunton Antiques Center, The Kettle shares the second story of the building with the The Artisans Loft gallery. These modest accommodations provide everything that an up-and-coming performance group needs: lighting and sound equipment, a stage with a curtain backdrop, storage space for props, and comfortable seating for about 50 people.

Madame Onça

Inspired by the fact that great tea is made by combining different ingredients together into one delicious blend, the venue’s name reflects the notion that this is very much a group effort. In her words, “It’s meant to be a transformative space, like a kettle, because it’s better than what you put into it, which is a delicious and fulfilling brew.” That ethos translates into diversity and representation amongst the performers who take its stage. Clavin explained, “I’m trying to make it more known and obvious that The Kettle and Spectacle & Mirth and ShenFringe are places where it’s not about diversity for diversity’s sake, it’s diversity for the sake of reality.” She added, “It’s about actually representing what we have. I’m still learning what that is and striving for that, as well as for disability and for people of the trans community and of the gay community. It’s meant to be inclusive, everything is meant to be inclusive.”

Above all, Clavin wants The Kettle to feature acts that emphasize raw performance over art. “I think that entertainment is more important than art because entertainment by necessity is about interaction, communication, discussion, and dialogue. Art is about proclamation. I like to interact and I like to have a back and forth.” This symbiotic relationship between performer and patron is what gives The Kettle such an intimate, exciting atmosphere. One might easily imagine Clavin as an old-timey carnival barker, managing the perfect assortment of sideshow acts, lifting up the curtain to beckon you inside. However, her distinctive style is much more methodical and nuanced. “What I like to do is stuff that’s not frivolous,” she explained. “There’s a beauty in frivolity, but I think that the entertainment that calls to me—and that I like to create—is something that has more of a left hook to it. That’s what I strive to have inside of the work that I do instead of just a review, which is a show that is based on a parade of things that are unrelated. It’s just a style choice.”

Paulo Garbanzo

The Kettle had its grand opening on September 23 with Secrets & Lies, a Spectacle & Mirth review bursting with sideshow acts, many involving sharp knives. Miss Opal dazzled with her romantic sword-swallowing, managing to survive the performance with bubble-gum pink pin curls intact. Perhaps the starkest departure from the typical conventions of burlesque was the strip tease number performed by world-renowned jester Paulo Garbanzo. Channeling the spirit of Flash Gordon, he proceeded to literally throw off articles of clothing in order to save the planet, leaving nothing but a small red thong and pasties. After intermission, Clavin delivered on her promise of group participation as she hosted the party game “Three Truths and a Lie.” Four audience representatives took turns telling the scandalous tales of real-life American spy, Betty Pack. The rest then had to vote, by applause of course, on which secret mission was most likely the lie. Another WWII send-up went to the show’s love ballad between the Soviet Union and the U.S. as personified by Madame Onça and Joy Rayman, set to the tune of “Dream A Little Dream of Me,” sung by Clavin herself with cello accompaniment by Master Eleanor Graham. The night ended not with a whimper, but with a bang, as Clavin took the stage one final time to surrender herself as human dartboard for Garbanzo’s knife-throwing routine.

After this first taste, patrons are eagerly awaiting to see what will be served up next at The Kettle. Clavin herself has big dreams for the small space, including a rooftop garden and solar panels to make it a more self-sustaining entity. What’s sure for now is that this new addition to Staunton’s theater scene is brimming with synergetic potential.

Miss Opal

 

Grace Kelly, Revisited

I don’t normally dress this way but I’m trying desperately to look older. I’m not sure exactly what he likes about me but I’ve gotten his attention somehow and I intend to keep it that way. He’s almost twice my age, he could be my father easily. He tells me about his grandchildren and I avoid doing the math in my head. He’s just so endlessly interesting and I find his salt and pepper hair to be a mark of maturity and wisdom instead of age. I don’t like to think of him as old; I like to think of him as an expensive bottle of matured wine. As if somehow the universe was saving him for me.

I wished with everything in my being that I were somehow able to see him at the peak of his youth. To see him when he felt invincible, limitless and floating towards nothing in particular like a balloon without a string. To see this man I was so fascinated with at the autumn of his years, back when the grim reaper’s kiss was never close enough to touch his cherub skin. He had once showed me pictures of him at twenty-three, curtained by the background of a forgotten beach somewhere. I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of his golden Greek-god glow. A badge clearly earned from summer days spent carelessly with the notion that there would always be plenty more of them.

But there’s always a catch isn’t there. He’s married, or rather, they’re married and they’ve been that way for thirty years. I wish I could say she was a hag or a woman who somehow deserved it because she had let herself go, let the sex run out of her marriage, but she wasn’t. She was beautiful in an absolutely effortless way, like a reincarnation of Grace Kelly: Princess of Monaco.

Tonight, I wait patiently. I’m wearing an expensive dress that fits me better than I expected. I spend these moments exploring her private suite, touching all of the elegant glass bottles of expensive perfumes on the vanity. I open each perfume as carefully and gracefully as I could, as I imagine she would, and rub a little behind each ear. I comb my dark frizzy hair with her silver hairbrush and see the threads of my hair intertwined with the coils of her pale strands. I see ornate picture frames encasing portraits of the couple on the walls. I place my thumb over her lovely face and imagine that when I take it away I will see only mine in her place.

Turning away, I walk inside her closet. Her fancy clothing, no doubt composed of only the best imported furs, leathers and silks, line both sides, hung neatly on racks. I drag my hands over the silky fabrics as I walk deeper and deeper inside. The wire hangers make a slow screech as I pass through, leaving my fingerprint on every garment. Just as I’m at the end, the designated shoe section of course, I hear the click-clacking of high heels on hardwood. She’s home.

On Being A Bitter Divorce Child

I was twelve years old when my parents sat me down and told me they were getting a divorce, and it wrecked me. I quit ballet, the hobby I had devoted almost eight years to, pushed everyone away, and bottled in my confusion and emotions towards my parents. At the time I attended a private Christian middle school and I still remember vividly every time I would announce the news to my friends at school or adults at church. I always got similar reactions. Most (if not all) reacted with shock and some seemed almost horrified. They would tenderly touch my shoulders as if they were broken and say, “I’m praying for you.” Looking back now, I realize that these people probably meant the best by their words and actions but being young and emotionally immature, I felt scared and worse of all, embarrassed. I remembered thinking, “What is going to happen to me?” As if the divorce was going to completely modify my DNA, personality and world, as if I was now damaged goods. My life was messy now. I didn’t have the perfect Christian home or family, my home was now a battlefield where promises were broken and doors were slammed. Friends stopped coming over. It was like there had been a death in the family. Since the church dealt with my parents as the transgressors who didn’t try or pray hard enough to salvage their marriage, my brother and I fit comfortably in the mold of the victim. I walked around with the scarlet “D” of divorce on my chest and felt paranoid that other families could pick me out from a crowd. It was easy to blame them like everyone around them did. Going through the divorce of your parents, while you’re in the key growing stages of your life, gives your teenage angst the best ammunition. I had charged my parents for taking away the wholeness and unity of our family and sentenced myself to passive aggressively guilting them for a lifetime.

As the years went on, it honestly got easier but it was always there like a raised scar I could never stop messing with. Every argument I had with my parents I could always feel the divorce comment never too far around the corner. It was too tempting to not throw in their faces. Every problem in my life I irrationally traced back to the break up of my parent’s marriage. I honestly thought the feelings of betrayal would never go away but then one day I a kind of epiphany. As I was thinking about growing up, the trials and tribulations of meeting boys, obtaining crushes, getting rejected, getting heartbroken and then doing it all again, I spontaneously thought of my parents. Sometimes we forget that our parents were once young. They stood in my shoes and most likely with the same size shoe. Even they were once lovesick teenagers. I was left scratching my head. I had never handled my parents in the same way you would handle your best friend after she or he had been broken up with. I mean that’s how heartbreaks work right? In the words of a popular song from the band, The Script, “when a heart breaks, it don’t break even.” Somebody always gets hurt. Was it possible that one (if not both) of my parents had been sent right back to the days of heartache that they thought they had left behind in their youth? I couldn’t help myself thinking about all the “what-if’s”. If they had ever looked at their phone hoping that the other was calling with words of remorse or repentance, if they had ever had lonely nights that they wished the other was with them, or if they had ever felt the stab of rejection that comes from someone you cared so much about looking you straight in the eye and telling you they want nothing to do with you. It brought me to tears. I had never looked at my parents like were two heartbroken teenagers who, through the masquerade of adulthood, made them seem cold, callous and emotionless about it. Nobody as a child sits dreaming out the window about the day they sign their divorce papers.

We the children of divorce often treat our parents with such disdain because we selfishly assume they are taking away our storybook family on purpose. And maybe they did take it away, maybe they weren’t perfect but neither am I. Neither is anybody. Sympathizing with my parent’s breakup in the way I would deal with my close friend or co-worker’s breakup helped me empathize with them. It seemed so simple but why at the time had it been so impossible? On top of the struggles my parents went through with their painful breakup, I noticed that it was far more difficult because when you share children and a home. Society can react to divorce with scorn and turn parents into pariahs. Some people even go as far as ignoring and distancing themselves to avoid catching the divorce like a highly contagious zombie virus. This is all despite the very real fact that divorce is becoming more and more commonplace in our society.

If you’re a bitter child of divorce like I was (and am still growing out of) the only advice I can give is to simply let it go. It is 1,000 times harder to do than say but remember that you are a human being, not a scorekeeper.

In Agua Dulce, We Dance

Transcript of Act I only- Approx. 25 minutes

Characters:

Mamá: Mother of the four sisters. Lives in Agua Dulce, impoverished. The sisters financially support her. Anti-Noriega.

Josefina “Fini”(22): Second oldest sister. Now living away from their hometown in the city, she has become the mother figure to her younger sisters. She feels pressure from them to get married and hopefully get them out of Panama. Neutral towards Noriega.

Yelena (25): Eldest sister. She is the first woman helicopter pilot in the Panamanian armed forces so she has brought some mild fame to the family but little monetary compensation to help out. She has a strong sense of nationalism she tries to instill in her sisters. Pro-Noriega.

Dominga and Maritza (17 & 18): Second youngest sister and youngest sister. They both earn a meager living selling Molas to tourists in the city. They both don’t care for politics, only about having fun.

Nick (25): American paratrooper. He believes he is doing the right thing by fighting in Operation Just Cause on the American side. He views Panama as the third world. Anti-Noriega.

Bartender (unknown)

 

SCENE I

The setting is Agua Dulce, Panama at the end of December 1989. Three hours from the capital, this town is run down with dilapidated buildings.

Curtains rise to the Flores’ childhood home, which Mamá continues to live in. The Flores sisters have now been living in Panama City for a year but they still come for weekly visits to help Mamá. The interior and exterior of the house is covered in bright, cheap, cracked paint. The appliances are outdated and barely functional. Mamá cooks sancocho in the kitchen while Dominga and Maritza sit on the floor, working on their molas. Dominga yawns idly.

 

MAMA

 

Dominga! Close your mouth before you catch flies in it. Don’t you sleep? Chorra… You can sleep like a queen in the city while I have to sweat in this shack.

 

DOMINGA

 

Lo siento, Mamá… I’m sorry. I just didn’t get to bed until late last night.

 

MARITZA

(Giggles)

That’s because she went out last night like the putita she is.

 

DOMINGA

 

¡Callete! What’s wrong with you? Mamá doesn’t need to know that! For once in your life be quiet, Maritza.

 

 

MARITZA

 

Well then maybe you should stop partying and start taking classes again like you’re always talking about.
DOMINGA

 

I will…once all this political upset dies down. There are protests at the college every other day now. I don’t like it…makes me nervous.

 

Mamá stirs the bubbling pot and taps the wooden spoon on its edge with force, like a judge calling order with his gavel.

 

MAMA

 

Are you dumb in the head, Dominga? How can you go out in the city at a time like this? Do you not watch the news? That crook Noriega released all those murderers and rapists from the prisons into the streets! You girls would do well to listen to me now and again. (Under her breath) ¡Locas!

 

MARITZA

(Giggling still)

It’s not her fault that she loves the gringos. She goes out almost every night to find herself an Americano to marry her.

 

Maritza pulls at Dominga’s hair. Dominga slaps her hand away, annoyed.

 

DOMINGA

 

She’s just jealous because she can’t find a man… and I don’t go out looking for gringos. Every girl my age is looking for a husband. I’m not the only one.

 

MAMA

 

There’s nothing wrong with finding a man, Dominga but you should stay away from American men. It’s too messy. They’re currently invading and occupying your country… MY country. (Pauses) Anyways, you’re a pretty girl you could find a nice Panamanian man. There’s plenty around here.

 

 

DOMINGA

 

No, Mamá! That isn’t true at all! Every man I’ve met around here turned out to be an ass… they’re a bunch of culos!

 

MAMA

(Shaking her head)

What have I always told you girls? Mas halan dos tetas que una carreta. Two tits have more pull than any ox cart.

 

 

Josefina bursts through the door with bags of groceries on her arms and flowers for Mamá.

 

 

JOSEFINA

 

¡Ay! Mamá! (Kisses her on both cheeks) Que paso… what’s going on here? I see Dominga and Maritza are goofing off like always.

 

MARITZA

 

You bought all that for Mamá? You’re such a kiss-up, Fini. You make us all look bad.

 

JOSEFINA

 

I’m no kiss-up, muñequita. (Squeezes her cheeks light-heartedly) I just got paid, that’s all.

 

MAMA
God bless my Fini. She’s the only one who takes care of me. When this country burns to the ground under Noriega she’ll be the one who helps her poor mother out… unlike you ungrateful, spoiled girls.

 

JOSEFINA

 

You shouldn’t say such things, Mamá. This is a dangerous time and he is our leader.

 

 

MAMA

 

Leader? Ha. He’s no leader to me. He’s a crook who rigged an election… a drug dealer. He’s the Pablo Escobar of Panama. A plague on our country!

 

JOSEFINA

 

No, Mamá. You got it all wrong. You should have seen it the other night. Yelena took me with her to the officer’s party. The place looked like a palace in Versailles, with columns and marble. He had such riches… and a collection of frogs! Frogs made from every material you could imagine. Made from gold! You know how his adversaries call him “la rana”? The frog? Well he has a sense of humor about it, Mamá. He’s a humble man even though he lives like an urban king.

 

 

MAMA

 

The city has blinded you, Fini. You shouldn’t let your sister get you mixed up with that crook. When the Americans come to kill that man you need to not get caught in the crosshairs, hija.

 

JOSEFINA

 

Why would you say that about Yelena? She’s doing the right thing. She’s serving our country. You brag up and down these streets about her and her accomplishments as the first woman flying combat helicopters. It brings honor to our namesake around here. This whole town knows our family because of Yelena.

 

MAMA

 

I know, I know. But that girl is too noble for her own good. Sometimes I fear Yelena would serve any man in power, with a title. She doesn’t understand that wolves hide in sheep’s clothing. Even a dictator can look like the Holy Father in the right frame of mind.

 

Josefina sits down at the kitchen table in silence, ponderous.

 

Enough with this talk, Fini. My head aches now. I’m going to lie down in my room for a while. Serve yourselves some sancocho from the pot while its still hot, girls.

 

No one stirs. Everyone sits in place while Mamá exits rubbing her temples. Blackout.

 

END SCENE I.

 

****

 

Scene II

 

The scene opens to the apartment Yelena and Josefina share together. Yelena sits on the couch reading what look like manuals when Josefina enters.

 

JOSEFINA

 

What are you doing here? I thought you had to report today?

 

YELENA

 

No, I report tomorrow.

 

JOSEFINA

 

So you didn’t come to see Mamá with the girls for no reason then. You know Mamá asks about you all the time.

 

YELENA

 

Ah, she’ll live. How is the old hen anyway?

 

JOSEFINA

 

She had a lot to say actually.

 

YELENA

(sarcastic tone)

¡Qué sorpresa! I am so shocked!

 

Josefina throws down her purse and keys on the side table next to the door and walks over to the couch. She stands before Yelena with her hands on her hips, defiantly.

 

JOSEFINA

 

Would it kill you to show Mamá some respect? She is the woman who gave birth to you.

 

YELENA

 

Where is her respect for me? I never hear the end of it from that woman.

 

JOSEFINA

 

¡Basta! Enough with that, Yelena. You’re too old to be that way. I’m tired of playing peacemaker.

 

YELENA

 

Then don’t. I’m fine living my life while she lives hers.

 

JOSEFINA

 

She needs us. Mamá is not doing too well in that house alone. It’s our duty to help her. We should be there for her… como un equipo… together.

 

YELENA

 

There for her? Where was she when I was called out for combat? When all of the bombs were dropping? I could have been killed and the vieja can’t use the phone to see if I’m alive. The phone I bought her mind you. She spouts out the mouth about politics but if her eldest hija was killed she wouldn’t bat a lash.

 

JOSEFINA

(Suddenly very solemn)

I don’t want to talk about that night.

 

Yelena trades looks with Josefina and then returns to her manuals. Josefina goes over to the television and attempts to turn it on.

 

YELENA

(Bursts out)

NO! (Frightening Josefina and herself)… No. I- I can’t stand the news.

 

Josefina gives up on the television and stares at the black screen as the lights fade and the scene goes into a flashback.

 

December 20, 1989. 1:21 am (EST).

 

The sound of bombs exploding nearby and then afar. No two explosions sound the same because the volume can only estimate the distance of each. Flashes of lights come through the shabby blinds of the apartment. With each explosion, the furniture shakes and the frame of apartment makes the sound of a house settling violently. The living room is empty and the Yelena and Josefina are sound asleep in the adjacent rooms. As the bombing sounds continue for a while, the phone starts to ring. It’s loud chirping sounds reverberate through the small apartment. Yelena rushes out of her room in a nightgown, sleep heavy and confused. She walks over to the phone as if still in a dream state. She answers the phone. The booming continues in the background incessantly throughout the scene.

 

YELENA

(Voice groggy from sleep)

Hello? Oh… (Clears throat) Yes. Yes sir. I’m on my way.

 

As she hangs up the telephone, Josefina comes out of her room confused and frantic. She grips the walls white-knuckled as if she is holding them together.

 

JOSEFINA

(Hyperventilating slightly)

What’s going on? What do we do? Do we evacuate?

 

YELENA

(Firm tone)

Go back to bed.

 

JOSEFINA

(Out of breath)

Yelena, this must be the end of the world. God has come back! This is Revelations in the flesh, Yelena!

 

YELENA

(Snaps at her)

Get back to bed and stay there!

 

Josefina falls quiet, clearly terrified.

 

YELENA

 

I’m sorry (Ashamed) I need you to stay put until I get back. You need to be safe. Phone the girls and make sure they’re in a safe place. Tell them to stay inside and away from any public transit.

 

JOSEFINA

 

Where are you going? You can’t be going out there!

 

Yelena takes her rucksack from the closet and begins to leave. Josefina runs to her, clinging to her arm and trying to take the pack off of her.

 

JOSEFINA

(Almost in tears)

Yelena. You cannot go. I won’t let you.

 

Yelena pulls her sister off of her. She is adamant to leave.

 

 

YELENA

 

I have to go, sister. This is what I signed up for. I knew what I was getting into.

 

JOSEFINA

(Suddenly angry)

 

So now you’re leaving us? To go get yourself killed? What are we to do without you? You’ve always been like another mother to the girls… (Trails off)

 

YELENA
Don’t forget to call the girls.

 

With that she re-adjusts the ruck on her back and heads out the door into the conflict.

 

JOSEFINA

(Calling after her)

 

You’re breaking my heart, Yelena!

 

Josefina stays where she stands frozen watching the door close shut. For a while she listens to the bombs falling outside her window. She jolts as the telephone begins to ring again. Josefina picks up the phone walking over to the television near it and turning on the news.

 

JOSEFINA

 

Dominga?… Calm down, calm down. (Beat) Yes, I’m alright. (Beat) Yelena? Um… she’s fine she’s right next to me. Are you all okay? You both are inside, right? Okay. Just stay away from the windows. Everything is going to be fine. We are going to be fine.

 

Her voice trails away as the sound of bombs in the background and the news blaring on the television falls away and the lights on stage fade to black.

 

END SCENE II.

 

****

 

SCENE III

 

This scene opens again to the apartment of Yelena and Josefina, the next night. Yelena is away and Josefina has planned to spent time with the girls. Dominga and Maritza come bursting through the front door with bags on their shoulders. Each is dressed to the nines in party dresses with their hair and makeup done up. They toss their bags on the floor carelessly as they invite themselves in. Dominga holds two bottles of Seco Herrerano in both hands.

 

DOMINGA

 

¡Buenas noches, muchachas!

 

Dominga and Maritza both cheers and laugh putting the bottles in the kitchen. Josefina is sitting on the couch as they come in. She is clearly not dressed for the occasion in sweatpants and a t-shirt.

 

JOSEFINA

 

¡Ay, meda! What is with all the bags? I thought you guys were only staying the night.

 

MARITZA

 

Si, hermana. But we’re going out tonight. We just wanted to come prepared. I’m so excited I started planning my outfit two days ago.

 

JOSEFINA

 

So you two thought you should throw your belongings all over my floor I just cleaned? Ay dios mio. You girls are little animals.

 

 

Maritza and Dominga giggle as they start picking up their bags from the floor and neatly unpack them. Josefina gets off the couch and comes to inspect what the girls have brought.

 

JOSEFINA

 

What did you bring this for?

 

She lifts up one of the bottles before Dominga grabs it from her.

 

DOMINGA

(Laughs)

 

Fini, Panamanians never come empty handed.

 

Dominga begins making Seco drinks for all of them. She mixes the Seco Herrerano with milk and ice and places the drinks on a tray.

 

MARITZA

 

I just told you we were going out tonight for the new year. Dominga and I planned for somewhere special this time. We’re having a few drinks here before we go out so we don’t have to pay for expensive drinks. O quizás…(Pauses) Maybe we can get men to buy them for us!

 

She walks over to the cassette player boom box in the corner and pops in one of the cassettes. The song “Straight up” by Paula Abdul begins to play and Maritza starts dancing.

 

 

 

 

JOSEFINA

 

What did I say, Maritza? I agreed only to go out for a nice dinner. Not to lose our minds in some seedy bar.

 

Maritza keeps dancing ignoring her sister. Dominga comes out of the kitchen with the tray of drinks, sets them on the coffee table and takes sips out of her own.

 

 

DOMINGA

(Shakes her head enthusiastically)

No—not at all, sister! My friend Maria told me about this officers club that has sprang up in the city. All of the American soldiers come there to drink and have fun with the locals. All my friends have gone and had a blast. We have to go, Fini.

 

JOSEFINA

 

That sounds like a very bad idea. Just think for a moment here, girls. Mama will kill us if she found out. Yelena will kill us. (Pauses) No. No. We cannot go there. I’m the oldest here and I say we can’t go and that’s it.

 

MARITZA

 

Ah, come on. Don’t be such a nag, Fini. Just let us have some fun for once. No is going to tell Mama or Yelena.

 

DOMINGA

 

Exactly it’ll be our little secret. Besides, there is going to be so many handsome officers there tonight. Maybe I’ll meet the man of my dreams. He’ll take me away to his mansion in America. I’ll never work one more day in my life. My feet will never touch the floor.

 

 

MARITZA

(Laughs)

 

Dominga has her head in the clouds.

 

 

JOSEFINA

 

We cannot go. We shouldn’t even be leaving the house in these times let alone fraternizing with American soldiers!

 

DOMINGA

 

Ah, enough of that Fini. We’re just having fun on New Years Eve and we can tell Mama that American soldier just HAPPENED to be there. Fácil como es. It’s as easy as that.

 

Dominga puts a drink in Josefina’s hand and lifts it to her mouth, instructing her to drink some.

 

Besides, look at this new outfit I have on. What a shame it would be to waste it staying at home.

 

JOSEFINA

 

A girl like you shouldn’t be buying new outfits. I’ve seen how much money you make. I swear if you had no food in the house you would still go out a buy a sweater… If you girls want to go so badly you should do yourselves a favor and go without me.

 

Dominga mimes for Josefina to keep drinking.

 

DOMINGA

 

Fini, Fini, just relax. We’re going to have fun tonight. Come on, you can’t be alone on New Years. Yelena is away and you know you would just be miserable if you stayed. It wouldn’t hurt to celebrate with your sisters. We haven’t gone out in ages.

 

Josefina is ponderous for a moment.

 

JOSEFINA

 

I’m not even dressed! Look at me.

 

MARITZA

 

That’s not a problem.

 

She dances over to Josefina and Dominga.

 

Dominga can do your hair and I can do your makeup. As for the clothes… I’m sure we can find something in your closet. Come on, Fini. Say yes!

 

Josefina exhales audibly, defeated and out of excuses.

 

JOSEFINA

 

Fine. But the second I say we leave, we leave!

 

MARITZA

 

Yes! (To Dominga) I knew we could get her to say yes.

 

JOSEFINA

 

What?

 

DOMINGA

 

Don’t worry about it.

 

 

Maritza and Dominga have a small celebration and then tug Josefina into the other room. Dominga stops and comes back to the coffee table, remembering about her drink and bringing it with her to join the others.

 

END SCENE III.

 

****

 

 

SCENE IV

 

The scene opens to the Officer’s Club. Josefina is dressed in a tight blue dress and leans against a bar set up in the corner as her heels clearly pain her. The dance-floor takes up much of the club’s space. Officers and locals dance to salsa music in the foreground. The Officers are marked by the deep green dress uniforms they wear. They dance sweating in the heavy wool. Most locals are wearing light cotton dresses and shirts as the humidity necessitates. Their clothes stick to the beads of sweat on their bronzed bodies. The bartender appears to be a native but he is light-skinned and speaks perfect English, clearly picked to work the Officer’s Club because mixed Panamanians don’t make the Americans as nervous. He puts a drink on the counter in front of Josefina.

 

 

BARTENDER

 

Here you are. Rum and coke.

 

JOSEFINA

 

This isn’t mine… I didn’t order anything.

 

BARTENDER

 

Señorita, this isn’t a charity. Just pay for your drink and go.

 

JOSEFINA

 

I’m not paying for a drink I didn’t order.

 

BARTENDER

 

“Woman in blue dress” (flicks the receipt paper with his fingers) written right on the tab.

 

Flashes the tab at Josefina.

 

 

 

JOSEFINA

 

That’s not my problem I didn’t—

 

Nick enters. He inserts himself between the bartender and Josefina, protectively. He speaks in a slight Southern drawl.

 

NICK

 

Hey, if I could interrupt— Mam, I’ll pay for the drink. It’s not a big deal.

 

Josefina looks to the handsome stranger. He’s in uniform and well groomed. She turns back to the bartender defiantly.

 

JOSEFINA

 

No! He’s being a dick!

 

The bartender extends a look of disdain to Josefina before he focuses back on Nick.

 

BARTENDER

 

That’ll be 8.95.

Nick produces the cash and takes the drink. Josefina stalks off and he follows her.

 

NICK

 

Don’t you want this? You put up a good fight for it.

 

JOSEFINA

 

I didn’t want it in the first place… I only talked back because the guy was being a real cabrón. Not really his fault though, most men around here are…especially with the present circumstances.

 

 

 

NICK

(Laughs)

Cabrón. That’s a new one for me. You know I never know if you people are using profanity to be profane or to be affectionate.

 

JOSEFINA

(Distracted)

Yeah, it’s a thin line.

 

She looks around the club for her sisters. Nick looks in the direction of her gaze.

 

NICK

 

Did you come with someone tonight? A husband or boyfriend, perhaps? Preferably someone who could kick my ass.

 

Nick smiles to himself, he thinks he’s doing well. Josefina is unfazed.

 

JOSEFINA

 

No, just my sisters… (Pauses) wait what did you mean by “you people”? Just because I am foreign to you doesn’t mean you are by any mean better than me. You are the alien out here… (Shakes head) You Americans think the United States is the center of the world.

 

NICK

 

I’m sorry. I really am. I don’t mean to offend, Mam.

 

Josefina makes it a point to show she’s ignoring him now in her body language.

 

I take it you’re slow to warm up to Americans. It’s my fault. Let me start off on my better foot… I mean how could I be so rude? I didn’t even tell you my name. Me llamo Nick.

 

He extends a hand to shake. She looks at it and her frowns turns into a line. She’s defrosting, slowly.

 

 

JOSEFINA

 

I’m Josefina… but they call me Fini for short.

 

NICK

 

Josefina? Yeah, I like that. That’s a beautiful name for a beautiful girl.

 

Josefina winces at the compliment.

 

NICK

 

So, tell me. If you dislike Americans so much what are you doing at the Officer’s Club?

 

JOSEFINA

 

Some unfortunately biological sisters dragged me here. My sisters love to dance. In Agua Dulce, they say we are born dancing.

 

NICK

 

So I take it you’re a local?

 

Josefina nods.

 

JOSEFINA

 

So I take it you’re an officer?

 

NICK

 

Yes indeedy, miss. Wasn’t always though. I enlisted… dropped out of Ole Miss my senior year to join up. I’m still trying to get the commissioned guys to take me seriously.

 

JOSEFINA

 

And what does your family think about you being over here?

 

NICK

 

They don’t know much. The folks know I’m somewhere in South America but they probably couldn’t point to it on a map. Y’know for the life of them they wouldn’t be able to tell you what the hell I’m doing here. I don’t think they even broadcast what we’re doing overseas on TV anymore. I guess we’ve been forgotten.

 

JOSEFINA

 

That’s terrible. You’re fighting for a country that doesn’t even acknowledge its own conflict. Don’t you think that’s a problem?

 

NICK

 

I guess. But to tell you the truth they probably got bigger fish to fry at home. They got more things to worry about. Anyways, I’ve always done it for the guts, not the glory. They can write the history books without me in it, that’s fine.

 

JOSEFINA

 

I just thought invading another country would be front-page news. It would be in Panama.

 

NICK

 

Bigger country, bigger problems… Again, not to offend…

 

JOSEFINA

(Laughs)

 

No, you’re alright.

 

NICK

 

For one thing, I have nothing to report back to them. I’ve only seen a little action from the ground and I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t been bold enough to try any of the local cuisine.

 

JOSEFINA

 

How have you managed that? What do you eat?

 

NICK

 

MREs and… McDonalds. (He sees her reaction of surprise) Hey, it’s the only familiar thing to me over here! I haven’t had the privilege of having a local to show me all the best places.

 

Josefina is smiling now.

 

Listen, I like this conversation we’re having. Maybe we can continue this tomorrow? You can take me to any restaurant of your choice, my treat. What do you say—?

 

Dominga and Maritza walk up suddenly, interrupting the pair. Both are out-of-breath.

 

MARITZA

 

Fini, can we go? I just found out the officer I’ve been dancing with all night has a wife and kids.

 

DOMINGA

 

Yeah, I’m over it too.

 

Dominga takes the rum and coke from Nick’s hand and starts drinking it. Josefina turns to Nick.

 

JOSEFINA

 

I’m sorry. I have to go.

 

They start heading towards the door. Nick stops Josefina.

 

NICK

 

Wait. When can I see you again?

 

JOSEFINA

 

Do you have a pen?

 

Nick scrambles through the pockets of his uniform for a pen. Finally, he finds one and hands it over to Josefina.

 

JOSEFINA

 

Tomorrow night. Here, you can call me.

 

Josefina writes her number on the back of his hand. Dominga and Maritza exchange looks. Lights fade to black.

 

END SCENE IV

 

*******

 

SCENE V

 

This scene opens to Josefina and Nick walking down the street together. The streets are empty, creating a feeling of uneasiness. They approach a brightly colored restaurant. Nick walks in front of her attempting to open the door for Josefina but he finds them locked.

 

NICK

 

Oh. (Pauses) I think it’s closed.

 

JOSEFINA

(Laughs quietly)

No, it’s not closed. The restaurant owners in the city are still nervous after the lootings. I’ll tell them we’re here to eat.

 

Josefina knocks on the doors and after a few moments someone inside the restaurant cracks open the door and peers out.

 

Señor, estamos aquí para comer.

 

The server nods and opens the door for them to enter. The couple sits at a table. Except for one other couple eating quietly in the corner, they are alone in the restaurant.

 

 

 

 

NICK

 

It’s not everyday that you got to knock before you come into a restaurant. At least not back home… I have to say I didn’t expect that.

 

JOSEFINA

 

It wasn’t always like this. Panamanians are a very friendly people. I think you can understand how the present circumstances are affected our reception to strangers. Most people are questioning whom to trust anymore.

 

NICK

 

Yeah, I understand. I guess you can hear it a thousand times in all the endless meetings and briefings before you ship out. It’s not until you actually get there that you feel like an intruder in a country. I wish I were here on more pleasant terms.

 

JOSEFINA

 

Don’t get me wrong, Nick. There are many people here who are so grateful for the American aid. Most of us knew what Noreiga was up to before any Americans put boots on the ground. It’s just… no one wants their homes and land destroyed for any cause.

 

NICK

 

And you?

 

JOSEFINA

 

What about me?

 

NICK

 

What do you think of the American occupation? (Pauses) Of me?

 

JOSEFINA

 

Oh, I don’t know… I don’t have an opinion either way.

 

NICK

 

Come on, I know you do. Lay it on me! I can take it.

 

JOSEFINA

 

No, I think we’ve had enough doom and gloom for the night.

 

NICK

 

Alrighty, then… I guess that’s true. I’ll get it out of you eventually.

 

Nick smiles, showcasing a wide toothy grin. The server comes over with two menus and two waters. They both open their menus.

 

JOSEFINA

 

I want to know more about you. Why did you join the military?

 

Nick takes a toothpick out of his pocket and puts it between his lips.

 

NICK

 

That’s… a good question. I guess I’ve never really sat down and thought about it. Always given the standard: “I want to serve my country” bullshit to all the passer-bys who ask. You know—I don’t think they really care much about the answer. Just want to be polite I guess… to be honest I think I joined up ‘cause being a soldier is in my blood.

 

JOSEFINA

 

How do you mean?

 

NICK

 

I don’t know… dad got crippled in Vietnam… grandpa in WWII… medals were displayed everywhere in my childhood home. War was written into my DNA. It was always just…there. I played army man with the kids next door since I could walk. It’s funny… when I was a tot I always told my mom that the national anthem was my favorite song. She always got a kick out of that.

 

 

 

JOSEFINA

 

I can understand that. Except a lot of my nationalism was tied up with religion. My family is staunchly Catholic. I remember we had a pageant every year for Semana Santa… I think you guys call it Easter? (Nick nods in recognition) The year I turned twelve, I got picked to play the Virgin Mary. I was so happy… my mother cried.

 

She laughs.

 

NICK

 

Ah. I know all about that. My family is Baptist. Used to drag me to church every Easter Sunday. I’ve had none of that since I moved out. Don’t need any of that nonsense.

 

JOSEFINA

 

You don’t go to church?

 

NICK

 

No, I don’t. I’m what they would call an atheist… Still carry a little Bible in my pocket though. You know, for good luck and such.

 

Josefina is quiet, realizing she is at dinner with a godless heathen.

 

NICK

 

So tell me, Fina. Can I call you Fina? Is any of your family in the military?

 

JOSEFINA

 

Yes… my older sister, Yelena. She joined when she turned 18. They offered a lot of benefits and she really didn’t have other options.

 

NICK

 

She still active duty?

 

 

JOSEFINA

 

Yes… she’s actually Fuerzas de Defensa.

 

Josefina takes a drink from her water. Nick looks completely taken aback.

 

NICK

 

Fuerzas de Defensa? As in the Panamanian Defense Forces… Jesus, Fina. Your sister is fighting for Noreiga.

 

 

JOSEFINA

 

I know. And when you spoke earlier about my thoughts on everything… well… my opinion is that I have a duty to my both my God and most importantly, my sister. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have come in the first place.

 

Just then the server comes up to their table and asks if they are ready to order. Josefina slams her menu shut and collect her things.

 

I’m sorry I have to go.

 

NICK

 

Hey, wait! Don’t go. I’m sorry if I said something wrong again!

 

JOSEFINA

 

No, it’s me. I’m sorry.

 

Josefina gets up from the table, nearly knocking over her chair and walks out of the restaurant. Nick sits stunned in his seat next to the extremely confused waiter. Lights fade out to blackout.

 

END SCENE V.

 

END OF ACT I.

 

Run-Down of ACT II

 

Scene 1- Yelena confronts Fini about seeing Nick. (Maritza and Dominga have obviously told her) She defends Nick though she knows it might be betraying her family.

 

Scene 2- Dominga and Maritza are at a café when a gunfight breaks out in the streets of Casco Viejo. Maritza is injured but it is unclear by which side. (According to CODEHUCA there was 2,500–3,000 civilian casualties during the invasion)

 

Scene 3- The Flores family is in the hospital with Maritza. They all begin to see the evil of Noreiga and Yelena starts to doubt her alliances.

 

Scene 4- Josefina invites Nick over to talk and Yelena bursts in and tells them that she has just deserted the Panamanian Defense Forces. She tells Fini that she needs to come with her into hiding until Noreiga is taken down or she may be captured for deserting.

 

Scene 5- Josefina tells Nick she must go, as her family needs her. He understands but he makes her promise that they will meet again after the war is over. He tells her of a place where they can place letters to each other while she is in hiding.

 

END OF PLAY.

Namesake

According to most online namesake authorities, Natalie means nativity. This of course is ironic, given that I haven’t stepped foot in a church in over eight years. And yet, I remember how evocative this discovery had been to me as a little girl. When I think of the word nativity, I cannot help but have my mind whirled backwards to the magic of childhood Christmases. Mine, however, were always heavily steeped in religion. We weren’t celebrating the coming together of family or the closing of a year; this was our lord and savior’s b-day bash. I can hardly remember one Christmas without the neon cast on my bedroom window of our ornamental, plastic, light-up nativity set in the front yard. One year, our baby Jesus was stolen and the family consensus was that it had been the work of Satanists trying to encumber our display of Christian devotion. I would love to entertain the notion that we were indeed visited by these mythical Satanists Fox News were always talking about, but our sacred plastic baby Jesus was most likely taken by a handful of mischievous neighborhood teens. Our family went well beyond December 25th though. My parents had brought me up in the church as any self-respecting, god-fearing Baptist parents would, but this progressed from our holidays to my education. I moved from Christian school to Christian academy to Christian institution. My science, math and biology were now interweaved with the teachings of Genesis and Exodus. Every nagging question could be easily explained away with a simple answer: because Jesus. This needed not apply only to academia. My entire personality was diluted with religious teachings. This was the life that I was brought into, cultivated and encouraged by my parents. The meaning behind my naming must have been some divine sign from God that my path to Jesus Christ was assigned at birth. At this point in my life I have come to regard that ideal as absurd. I realize now that my mother most likely watched West Side Story too many times and simply had Natalie Wood on the brain. I hate to think that meaning behind my name could be so cavalier, so pedestrian, but when I grew apart from religion I felt like I was in part rejecting my namesake. It was impossible to comb over my memories without seeing how large of a role religion had played into my identity during quite a number of formable years. Needless to say I was lost when I finally divorced myself from religion completely. Contrary to R.E.M’s prescriptive experience, I needed no corner to facilitate my loss of religion. I did it entirely on my own accord. While I still feel detached to the meaning behind my name in the religious sense, I enjoy the idea that I experienced a slice of life that is unlike most agnostic upbringings. I experienced religion to the extreme. Where it reaches every single part of your life till it eventually consumes your very identity. Everything in my household, including our plastic nativity Christmas, was laden with some sort of pious guilt that somehow we were not doing enough. Eventually you begin to feel like nothing is enough and in time it comes to a head and you erect a neon Mary and Joseph praying over a manger as your lawn décor. I should say after I have written such a long and almost entirely negative narrative around religion, that I have no qualms about religion or religious people. I write this while currently dating a Roman catholic, and yes, he has invited me multiple times. However, I delight in having the freedom to make my own mind, a courtesy that my younger self was perhaps not given, and I choose to make religion my past and not my present. Of course, who knows about the future.

Growing Pains

By this time your skin has gotten rougher and

you’re trying to swallow back that bitter taste in your mouth.

Maybe now the ceases around closed fists have deepened,

from all the times you’ve held on a little too tight.

Remember callouses can only come from friction.

It will take some time, love.

 

You’ve lost those fangs and now

think you know what it takes to bear rings in your wood.

But only deep pain and rejection truly manifest this.

Why does this still surprise you, my darling?

Did the ache in your bones when you grew never show you?

 

It will be easier this way.

You’re older now and the world

is close enough to cut into your soft flesh, love.

You’ll have to be rubbed raw to become smooth again.

This is only one of many first defeats.

 

The boys who cut and mark you,

walk away unscathed and laughing.

Those scars that decorate your legs,

have bloomed into violets.

Please realize you’re healing, love.

Next time it might not even pierce the skin.

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