Theatre Preview: Jennifer Schlueter’s Historical Drama Patience Worth at OSU May 19-20
Jennifer Schlueter, Associate Professor and Fellow of Curriculum and New Program Development in the OSU Department of Theatre, is also Joint Artistic Director of the for/word company. Known for acclaimed performances from New York to Chicago to Seattle, the company brings Schlueter’s newest play, Patience Worth, to OSU’s Barnett Hall for a limited engagement.
Patience Worth delves into the story of early-20th-century medium Pearl Curran (played here by Emily Bach) who claimed to channel an English colonist named Patience Worth through her Ouija board. As detailed in an extensive Smithsonian article by Gloria Diliberto this directed writing had literary connoisseurs including Edgar Lee Masters and the New York Times in its thrall. Diliberto wrote, “Those who witnessed the performances, some of them leading scholars, feminists, politicians and writers, believed they’d seen a miracle. ‘I still confess myself completely baffled by the experience,’ Otto Heller, dean of the Graduate School at Washington University in St. Louis, recalled years later.”
The story of Pearl Curran/Patience Worth still holds sway, as never having been quite debunked. Nowhere does it exert a stronger pull than St Louis where Curran was based and where Schleuter the playwright grew up. The Missouri History Museum has 29 volumes of Worth’s sessions. It’s fitting that the first full production of Patience Worth occurred there this April. In a terrific article with Bill Loellke for STL’s Riverfront Times, “‘I’m really interested in the question of it all,” Schlueter says. ‘Is it real, or is it not real? Is it the product of her own imagination or is there something actually taking over?'”
I saw a developmental reading of Patience Worth as part of Available Light’s 2014 Next Stage Initiative, and even in that early stage, it was a fascinating, fragmented look at identity and the ways narratives accumulate in someone’s mind and society. The play was developed further at an additional reading in London, England. In addition to the text, Patience Worth was conceived as a multimedia piece, using Unity software designed by John Luna, in collaboration with animator and motion capture expert Vita Berezina-Blackburn from the Advanced Center for Computing Arts and Design (ACCAD).
This looks to be one of the must-see theatrical events of the season and is highly recommended for anyone who can make one of the two performances.
For more info on the making of Patience Worth, see Craft Magazine for an audio interview.
Patience Worth runs May 19 and 20 with performances at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster or the door.