Ann Marie Healy’s “Dearest Eugenia Price”?
I’m just starting to familiarize myself with Ann Marie Healy’s plays. I have begun with reading Dearest Eugenia Price, a three character play about love and loss and truth and fiction . The play is set in the remote Michigan home of Mister Blind Johnny Knoll (MBJK), whose name points to his literal visual impairment. However, he wasn’t born blind, and in fact, he still had sound vision when he experienced love for a vain, privileged woman named Ms. Willett (she’s important to the backstory but not an actual character in the play). When the play opens, Pauline Khengis (PK), a young writer hired by MBJK as a caretaker, is questioning MBJK about his past romance with Ms. Willett so that she can use it as material for her romance novel. (PK has an ill father whom she fails to visit and who dies by the play’s end.) Early on, the title character, EP, an older, homely looking, straight talking woman and caretaker by trade, arrives at MBJK’s house looking for work, having just walked out on her previous employer, who was none other than Ms. Willett. MBJK and Eugenia hit it off, and over the remainder of the play, MBJK falls in love with her–his actual blindness and the trope about love’s blindness playing off one another. Eugenia begins straightening up immediately and disposes of papers, not realizing they contain PK’s novel notes, which, of course, doesn’t sit well with PK. Beyond this, Eugenia’s sheer presence in the house stirs old memories and emotions in PK, who leaves off novel writing and begins penning letters to EP from a made up secret admirer. Ironically, EP takes the fictitious letters as genuine professions of love, and the play ends with her packing up, setting off into dark and dangerous territory (men on motor toboggans–the sound of which forms the play’s soundscape–threatened to harm her during one scene when she went to mail a letter), and hoping to marry a man who doesn’t exist. PK essentially writes the ending to EP’s life, though the actual ending of the play leaves the fate of EP (purposely) ambiguous. On the one hand, PK seems sympathetic to EP and believes she is doing EP a favor by enabling her to experience love and happiness; on the other hand, her character is quite sinister and controlling.
I’m trying to decide how I feel about Dearest Eugenia Price. On the whole, it strikes me as a fairly innocuous play, which is weird, right, to describe a play as ‘innocuous’? I think because it’s published in the collection of Clubbed Thumb plays entitled Funny, Strange, Provocative, and because it sits side by side with plays such as Sheila Callaghan’s Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) that I expected it to hit me harder. While I do find Callaghan’s play to be ‘funny, strange, and provocative,’ I do not get that with Healy’s. And this is not to say that I don’t appreciate Dearest Eugenia Price, because I do, but it feels like an ‘old’ play, like it could have been written by an early 20th century woman playwright, such as, say, Susan Glaspel or better yet, Zona Gale. I also found it to be tender, yet dark. As I read, I kept imagining it as a novella, instead of a play, and this had as much to do with the way it is written as it did with the fact that one of the three characters is an aspiring novelist.
Have you read and/or seen this Healy play, and if so what was your sense of it? And is this play representative of Healy’s work?