I’ve gotten in the habit of doodling when I go to plays. It’s a holdover from my younger days when I doodled throughout my classses, and, far from being a distraction or way to kill time, it helps permanently engrave emotions and inspiration on my heart.
Last night, Thing1, Thing2 and I alternately chuckled and wept as we watched the third performance of Jon Katz’s first play, Last Day at Maple View Farm, and I knew I would be glad I was branding the evening into my soul for more than one reason.
The play is about Ralph Tunney, a farmer and his wife of 40 years coming to terms with the harsh new realities of dairy farming – a mechanized world where cows and farm workers are treated like value-less, replaceable widgets. It was a powerful story, powerfully written by Katz.
It was also powerfully told, and my husband, lovingly known on these pages as the Big Guy, as the farmer, literally had a big part in that.
The Big Guy has been in numerous plays, many of which take advantage of his booming voice and imposing size, as well as his acting ability. That may have been the case with this play as well, but as I watched my husband connect with the audience when Ralph decried a world that increasingly discounts the value of the people in it, I knew he was the perfect person to play this role.
This role was perfect for him because, in many ways, it wasn’t an act.
The Big Guy, like many people around here, lives a parallel reality with the farmer in the play. He works in a job that is physically demanding with little opportunity for advancement. A lack of economic opportunity is a constant the reality of rural life. Small family businesses struggle to stay afloat in an encroaching sea of national and multi-national stores that often treat their workers like widgets, and, working in the center of town, the Big Guy hears stories from the casualties of economic progress everyday. He also hears the stories of the ones who don’t stay afloat.
He rarely complains about his situation. We know and love the family he works for, and we pray for their sakes as well as ours that they continue to avoid this fate.
My Big Guy has a heart as deep as his voice, and as Ralph Tunney knelt on stage, almost weeping as he prepared to say goodbye to his favorite dairy cow, I knew I was watching the Big Guy mourn for all the Ralph Tunney’s who struggle and lose and somehow keep struggling.