For playwright Barbara Hammond, some very significant moments have inspired her latest play, a very personal work that combines the power of her Irish heritage with her experiences as a daughter and now, a mother.
It was back in 2009 when Hammond said goodbye to her own mother, who ultimately succumbed to a difficult battle with Parkinson’s disease. Not long after her passing, Hammond began to write. After getting through some initial words, she put her pen away.
“It was too painful,” recalled Hammond.
But the story continued to manifest itself in time, and now, some eight years later, Hammond is thrilled to see her piece make its way onto a stage.
San Francisco’s Magic Theatre is presenting the world premiere of “The Eva Trilogy,” Hammond’s play that examines the world through three separate plays, informed greatly by the mysticism and magic of Ireland, a country where Hammond obtained citizenship through her great-grandfather. Directed by the Magic’s artistic director Loretta Greco, the play opens on Saturday, Oct. 28th and continues through Nov. 12th.
The entire piece is described as a lyrical Irish epic that spans three plays – “Eden,” “Enter the Roar” and “No Coast Road.” The expatriate Eva returns home from her life in Paris and is faced with a choice when dealing with her terminally ill mother. The decision that is made haunts Eva for the duration of the story, a span that begins in Eva’s late 30’s and continues through her 60’s.
While the plays are separate entities, the Magic is the first company that will take on all three plays in a single production.
While Hammond stated that the plays are not autobiographical, there are certainly parallels. Hammond, who was born in Wisconsin, wanted to be a writer as a teen, and knew Ireland would be the place where her career needed to begin. So, at only 17-years-old, she packed her bags and headed out.
“I knew that Irish people had facility with language and a generosity of spirit that I wanted to write about,” said Hammond.
At such a young age, Hammond was a lot less rebellious and a lot more vulnerable. But it didn’t take long for Hammond to begin meeting people and creating a community for herself.
“I was very fortunate to meet the best friends I still have today in the first week I was in Ireland,” said Hammond. “It was pure luck. I was innocent, and I took in everything like a sponge.”
The international education paid huge dividends for a career that continues to rise. She is awash in awards and commissions, and is currently a resident playwright for New Dramatists, a playwriting peer community in New York City, where she makes her home.
While so much of playwriting is a solitary venture, Hammond is always thrilled to ultimately hear her words on a stage, in a rehearsal room, and finally, in front of an audience.
“Every time I see even a rehearsal of one of my plays, there are moments where I get a chill and a surprise at what I’ve exposed in the actor,” said Hammond. “The actor’s generosity is what creates that emotion in me, not the writing. It’s what the writing does to the actor that moves me.
“I think that answers the reason why I’m a playwright and not a writer. The actor’s embodiment of the words is what thrills me.”
The words of “The Eva Trilogy” are certainly personal, but not biographical. And the words of the trilogy have many sources of inspiration.
“I felt when I started the first play “Eden” that I really needed to say something about being a woman that I hadn’t heard before,” said Hammond. “It was at a moment when my mother was dying, and it felt urgent not to let what was between us die too.
“Having said that, the character is not my mother and Eva is not me truly, but I did draw on our emotional relationship for the character.”
Nowadays, while continuing to shape the upward trajectory of her career, she is also focused on shaping her new world as a mother to her eight-month old daughter.
“I feel like she has deepened my compassion for everyone and has made me feel part of the human family in a way that I used to feel removed from.”
Hammond also admits that her daughter has challenged her initial perspective on how she viewed the piece.
“When I wrote the characters, I was writing as a daughter and now when I hear them, I also feel them as a mother,” said Hammond. “The play is about a rebellious daughter, and as a mother, I worry about her.”
There is no doubt that Hammond would not be the writer she is today without Ireland as a young girl, living there for three years. She was given the gift of a rich culture because of her total immersion into the ways of the Irish. She is also thrilled that one of those friends from her first week in Ireland will be in the audience, taking in the show at the intimate Magic space at Fort Mason.
Which begs the question – if Hammond’s daughter comes up to her as a 17-year-old looking for a certain life-changing international trip, what might mom say?
Hammond then blurted out a hearty laugh – “That’s not a fair question.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The Magic Theatre presents “The Eva Trilogy”
Written by Barbara Hammond
Directed by Loretta Greco
Oct. 28th – Nov. 12th
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D
2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94123
Tickets range from $35 – $80
For tickets and more information, call (415) 441-8822 or visit magictheatre.org