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Local playwright’s latest work takes on family, redemption

May 5, 2014

Actor/poet/playwright/teacher and Bishop resident Eva Poole-Gilson has written “Who’s Lying Down in Your Heart,” a play for mature audiences described as “an intimate, unflinching look inside a family plagued by secrets.” Photo by Charles James

Have you ever wondered whether your siblings grew up in a totally different house than you did? That very question inspired Bishop playwright Eva Poole-Gilson’s production, “Who’s Lying Down in Your Heart?”
The for-mature-audiences-only play is  “a searing drama that examines two sisters who share a childhood filled with painful secrets,” said Poetic Justice Project Artistic Director Deborah Tobola. “I think ‘Who’s Lying Down In Your Heart?’ is an important play because it offers an intimate, unflinching look inside a family plagued by secrets. Tolstoy said, ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ The Sampson family is definitely unhappy in its own way.
“I think Eva has faithfully depicted this family in a certain time and place, with very particular details,” Tobola said. Poole-Gilson said she wrote the play in 2010, waking in the night with a headful of ideas that sprouted from fictitious, biographical and autobiographical events, “addictions and abuses  … I hope it’s somewhat inspiring for people who get on the other side of such things.”
Although the drama has its seeds in one family’s dysfunction, Tobola said, it “has universal appeal because it is so honest – and tender – about the painful past the two main characters, Ellen and Veronica, share.”
The play, which is co-produced by PJP and the Film & Video Department of Allan Hancock College, will be presented on Saturday, May 17, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Edison Theater, 100 College Pwy., Mammoth Lakes. Tickets can be reserved by calling (760) 934-6592 or the Writers Actors Guild at (760) 872-2446. The play will also be presented on Sunday, May 18 at 3 p.m. in the USO Building, 230 W. Ridgecrest Blvd., Ridgecrest. Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets, (800) 838-3006.
“Who’s lying down in your heart?” is a crucial line in the play, Poole-Gilson said, “an undercurrent, about what may happen if you love someone who is mentally unstable.”
It was that very fragility that attracted director Traci Mettler-Bradbury, who describes the play as a “hybrid production – half film and half live theatre” and the cast as a “unique blend” of actors whose “journeys have been unique … My journey directing this production is passion driven, a roller coaster ride. I’m excited to see all the elements played out.”
Mettler-Bradbury’s passion is also fueled by one of her children’s recovery journey. “She is in the film portion of this show and is really doing well after hitting rock bottom – in my eyes. I saw her lack of self-esteem, shame and blame. I wanted to remove labels from other people who have made bad choices … I guess I wanted to try to change one life one play at a time, as Deborah (Tobola) says.”
Principal characters Ellen and Veronica, played by real-life sisters, Rosemary and Tina Grace respectively, and Grampa, played by Guillermo Willie, perform on stage where the sisters “explore their painful past through a series of telephone calls” and memories, Tobola explained. Those childhood scenes flash overhead on screen, featuring actors Bull Chaney, Toni De La Guerra, Leonard Flippen, Jorge Manly Gil, Janet Guess, Alex Lopez, Renee Lopez, Barbara Reeger, Topanga Saldana, Chris Sanchez and Maux Samuel.
PJP became involved with “Who’s Lying Down” through a mutual poet friend of Poole-Gilson and Tobola, who sent the artistic director a copy of the play. “As I was reading it, I was envisioning how we would stage it,” Tobola said. Voila, the live theatre hybrid incorporating voice over, video and stills sprang to life, Poole-Gilson explained, “Touring with 12 actors – the play originally had 12 characters – is prohibitive.”
The one-of-a-kind PJP produces original work, often set in prison, which examines crime, punishment and redemption, Tobola said. “But ‘Who’s Lying Down In Your Heart?’ while not set in prison, is definitely about crimes – most of which go unpunished by the criminal justice system – and redemption. It is Ellen’s search for redemption that drives this play and makes it so powerful for the audience.”
The powerful impact of the circumstances of “Who’s Lying Down in Your Heart?” is not confined to the stage, Tobola pointed out. The fastest growing segment of the nation’s prison population are women, the huge majority of which are domestic violence, rape, child abuse and sexual assault victims, she explained, inviting people to view American Civil Liberties Union statistics at www.aclu.org/womens-rights/words-prison-did-you-know. “It’s important for Poetic Justice Project to illuminate these issues.” For more information about PJP, visit http://poeticjusticeproject.org/tina_grace_freeborn.html.
While Poole-Gilson remains very much attached to “Who’s Lying Down in Your Heart?” she is also contemplating her next project. The actor/poet/playwright/teacher is planning to launch a project in 2015 which she said will hopefully encourage local writers to produce “pieces about famous, and not famous people, historic and contemporary residents” of the area – more will be revealed.

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