In the midst of preparations to return to Pakistan in October and keeping abreast of the deluge in nightly headlines, I am currently engaged in something completely different: producing the New York City premiere of a play, Let Me Fluff Your Pillow, that I wrote in the early 80’s and that has become strangely relevant today. You can see more about the play, performance dates and ticket reservations here.
The premise: a family gathers for the weekly task—more drudgery than joy—of checking in at “Mama’s place” when they are suddenly rocked by a news flash about impending nuclear war with the Soviet Union. As the threat looms, family members huddle together, bathed in memories and regret. Without revealing too much of the plot, once the threat is mitigated, “actual explosions” are unleashed in the interactions among family members. Despite being drawn back from the brink of annihilation, most retreat to former patterns, shattering those with whom they are closest. The narrative symbolically asks: if given a do-over, would we seek a new chance at life…or retreat into old patterns?
So, why did I choose to write this play? And why produce it now?
As an unabashed political progressive committed to peace with justice, I sought to expose the irony of how we can be so focused on—and work so hard to counter—the external threats to existence that we become inattentive to thoughtless, uncaring or insensitive actions we do to those closest to us. In Let Me Fluff Your Pillow, the nuclear threat abates, but the characters are left to remain in the fallout of past patterns. It is these intimate expressions that can be so devastating and have such a lasting effect.
We wring our hands over geopolitical realities, some of which are legitimately horrific. We grieve over the crisis at the border, and ignore our own children. We fret over hostilities between nations, yet cannot quell the anger in our own families. We lament ongoing gridlock in our government that cannot meaningfully address health care or gun violence or climate change, but we repeatedly fall into destructive patterns with those who are closest to us. Indeed, external threats are not trifling things; but as Matthew 7:3 inquires, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” The play seeks to expose the hypocrisy of how progressive, faith-affirming Americans like me can become so preoccupied with the “big issues” of the day that we fail to see the damage we do to parents, spouses and siblings through careless words and simple actions.
Like what often happens in moments just before death, the characters in Let Me Fluff Your Pillow are liberated by a most devastating threat. When that threat is removed, do they learn from this experience? Some do; some don’t.
Why perform this play now? Last fall, Hawaiians were confronted with a news alert: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” The admonition, “This is not a drill” prompted even the most jaded residents of that island paradise to assume that they were under attack. What at one time seemed to be just a scenario for a doomsday novel was actually happening in real time in a real place.
Suddenly, Let Me Fluff Your Pillow had new relevance. What if this happened to you? How would you react? Now seemed like the right time to employ the power of a theatrical experience to invite us to consider how the values we cherish—generosity, forgiveness, family, loyalty, hope, respect—would factor into our actions in such a circumstance. Would we seek a new chance at life…or retreat into old patterns?
If you are in New York between May 16-19, I hope you can join us for the play and the talkback sessions that will follow each performance. Reserve your seats now, either on my website or on Eventbrite. Join us and explore how you would respond when confronted with unimaginable news.