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Season Info

The Living
By Anthony Clarvoe

Alison Shanks, Lisa Beezley, Silas Cooper

Scenic Design
Lighting Design
Sound Design
Costume Design
Assistant Director
Assistant to the Director
Stage Manager
Technical Director

David Rose
Barbara Beckley
John Patrick
Matthew O. O'Donnell
Ruth Judkowitz
A. Jeffrey Schoenberg
Michael Gordon Camp
Art Kempf
Beans Morocco
Susann Jarvis
Chris Kuenn
Mr. John Graunt
(a scientist)
Mrs. Sarah Chandler
(a shopkeeper's wife)
Mr. Edward Harman
(a physician)
Mrs. Elizabeth Finch
(a searcher of the dead)
Mr. John Lawrence
(Lord Mayor, a merchant)
Lord Brounker
(a cavalier)
Rev. Dr. Thomas Vincent
(a nonconformist minister)

Man 1
Mr. Sawyer
(a cabinet maker)
First Constable
(Sarah's brother,  shopkeeper)
Lawrence's Clerk
(a smith from Walthamstow)

Man 2
Mr. Mills
(an Anglican minister)
Brounker's Clerk

Man 3
Dr. Goddard
(a physician)
(a watchman)
(a farmer from Walthamstow)

Kelly Foran

Alison Shanks

David Carey Foster

Lisa Beezley

John Ross Clark

D. Ewing Woodruff

Silas Cooper

Al D'Andrea

Greg Foran

Clayton Whitfield

Scene 1 The home of George and Sarah Chandler
Scene 2 The office of the Lord Mayor
Scene 3 A vacant church
Scene 4 The street outside the Chandler home
Scene 5 The office of the Lord Mayor
Scene 6 A country road near Walthamstow
Scene 7 The home of Dr Edward Harman
Scene 1 The street outside the Chandler home
Scene 2 A clearing on the outskirts of London
Scene 3 The home of Elizabeth Finch
Scene 4 A London Street
Scene 5 The office of the Lord Mayor
Scene 6 A burial pit outside London
TIME: 1665       PLACE: In and around London


Anthony Clarvoe writes in his preface to The Living, "The events that took place in London in 1665 have survived thanks to the extraordinary testimony left by Captain John Graunt, Dr. Nathaniel Hodges, Sir John Lawrence, Samuel Pepys, and the Reverend Dr. Thomas Vincent; and to a remarkable act of historical imagination, Daniel Defoe’s novel A Journal of the Plague Year.  This script owes a handful of sentences, and its existence, to them." So, in fact, the characters of John Graunt, Mayor Lawrence, Rev. Vincent and, presumably, Dr. Harmon, were inspired by individuals who experienced the Great Plague of London firsthand.

Bites from a flea which had pastured on a black rat poisoned the human system so severely that the victim could expire within days, covered in sores called "buboes" or "plague tokens." Plague also took a pneumonic form which was transmitted by coughing or sneezing. Some folklorists contend that the symptoms - a rosy rash or sneezing (A-tchoo!) - along with the aromatic herbs people carried to ward off sickness, is the genesis of a popular children’s song. Its original form was

Ring a ring o’ roses
A pocket full of posies
We all fall down.
When plague burst into an epidemic in the summer of 1665, most scholars agree that there was gross underreporting in the weekly Bills of Mortality, caused by families fearful of retribution, and by parish clerks who conspired to prevent widespread panic. By mid-June, over a hundred plague deaths per week were announced in the bills, although the real numbers were much higher. The government’s remedy was to hire older women as "searchers of the dead" - if plague was found, the city quarantined the infected household, nailing shut the doors and posting watchmen to guard against flight. By early July, almost everyone who could afford to leave the capital did so. The King and his court, the Privy Council, families of means, and almost all clergy and physicians fled, leaving the general population to fend for themselves. Those who tried to leave the city after July found the people of the surrounding towns fiercely guarding the roads, turning back anyone from London.  The dire lack of doctors and hospitals, coupled with the flight of the clergy, caused great hardship for those who were left behind. A few brave physicians stayed to tend the sick as best they could, wearing protective clothing and beaklike leather headpieces stuffed with herbs. Nonconformist clergymen - whose presence had been outlawed in the Restoration - returned to minister from vacated pulpits. Funerals were forbidden, thus burials took place at night in massive pits dug outside the city walls, attended by the few maverick preachers willing to provide services for mourners.

As is so often the case in human affairs, fear provoked desperation, despair, and the common response to flee. However, London’s Great Plague also saw many acts of uncommon courage and compassion. The Living chronicles an extraordinary effort to survive, not just as individuals, but as a society. Historical accounts are full of behavior that illuminates both the worst and best that human beings are capable of. England’s institutional response to this epidemic allows many interesting comparisons to crisis in our own times. And the response of the individuals in this play allows us to look into our own hearts - to consider how we will respond if those around us fall.

--David Rose

Read the Back Stage West review