MIchaela Di Cesera’s staged reading of her latest work Successions will be performed at Centaur Theatre on September 17th. Successions is part of InfinitTheatre’s Unit series and is sponsored by Tableau D’Hôte Theatre.
I’m an only child so I find myself a little obsessed with sibling dynamics. When I observe siblings at their best, I’m often envious of that bond. And when I observe siblings at their worst, I see that they have the ability to inflict a special kind of pain on one another and I’m grateful not to be vulnerable to it.
It’s been a little over 10 years since my grandfather passed. I observed something at that time that I always wanted to write about: a “new Canadian” family finding itself cut off at the head— without a patriarch or matriarch, the original ties to home. I noticed that this loss of the established hierarchy shifted sibling dynamics: in some ways for the better, in some ways for the worse. It’s as though we perform a version of ourselves for our parents and once they’re gone the need for the act disappears as well. And of course, the first time we try out these new uninhibited versions of ourselves comes with the discussion of the inheritance.
I chose brothers for the centre of this play because I’ve been accused of being disinterested in men in my writing (whatever that means). I set out to write a feminist play about men to explore the ways in which the expectations of our culture (immigrant, Italian, patriarchal) affect and manipulate them from childhood.
So that’s what I started with: brothers who suddenly find themselves without either parent, faced with the question of an inheritance.
What themes are present in Successions?
Feminism, patriarchy and internalized misogyny
Every character in the piece exhibits some behaviours related to internalized misogyny. For example, between the two women in the piece, there is a living debate about feminism. One of them identifies as a feminist, but fails in living up to her ideology because of the baggage she carries from her upbringing. The other (younger) woman rejects feminism as an ideology, but is living life on her own terms and is much less critical of other women.
The Canadian dream, class struggles and intellectualism
We are used to seeing neat and tidy representations of the immigrant experience— especially in reference to the Italian community. But what about those who still feel uprooted? Who haven’t found an “easy” life? Who are burdened by the decisions of the previous generation— whether it was the choice to immigrate in the first place, the need to care for an elderly parent, or the (mis)management of the family business? The play also looks at the assumptions we make about people based on their profession and level of education. Certain occupations evoke automatic respect in immigrant communities and this programs shame and judgment onto children before they even choose what to do in life.
And that brings us to… Shame
I started to notice that what the patriarchy has done in our community is instilled a lot of shame— in men and women— and this shame, this disdain for ourselves when we don’t live up to a very narrow idea of what is “good” and “proper”— this shame causes us to lash out and hurt one another. One brother in the play has internalized so much shame that he has allowed it to poison all his relationships, with his family and with his wife.
Why the Italian community again?
People always ask me this! I write about what I know. I write with equal doses of love and skepticism because I believe we can be better. I’m sure no one has asked Michel Tremblay why he represented his background so often as people ask me. I think there is a sickness in the community I grew up in, borne by that previously mentioned shame, and it’s silence. We choose not to talk about the things that are less than perfect and that silence is destroying us.
Is it a true story?
No. The danger of my first professional work having been an autobiographical solo show has led some audiences to always assume that I write the Gospel truth. The truth has no place on stage. Even my solo show was embellished, stretched, heightened. The tagline was “the truth is a real problem” for a reason. Playwrights are not historians or journalists, we’re artists. We invent from things that inspire us.
For this play I started with what I knew, and then I created hybrid characters: they contain relics of those who have passed and who I hold in my heart, they house qualities of people I know now, and they also behave in ways entirely dictated by my imagination— in ways that are useful to the story being told. So many times I have audience members come up to me and say it’s as though I’ve written their personal story. That’s because I seek to make the personal universal. I am interested in patterns in my work. In the things that happen to us over and over again, generation to generation. I hope that the more we recognize the patterns, the easier it will be to break them.