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The Road Home: Re-Membering America

Actor/Playwright Marc Wolf retells a post 9-11 road trip across the country

In The Road Home: Re-Membering America, a current production of the Huntington Theatre Company, playwright and performer Marc Wolf relives the cross-country trip he took after September 11. Stranded in California, Wolf decided to drive back home to New York, stopping along the way to interview people about their response to the attacks. The Road Home is comprised of 20 interviews with different people, all performed by Wolf.

A graduate of Williams College, Wolf won great acclaim for his previous work, Another American: Asking and Telling, which used interviews with real people to explore the issue of gays in the military. Wolf spoke with BU Today about creating documentary theater, the aftermath of September 11, and his journey home.

You began this play almost immediately after 9/11, while still performing Another American — why was the need to create it so strong?

I was performing my other solo show in LA on 9/11. A few days later I had to fly up to Seattle to perform the show there for about six weeks. In the very tense atmosphere of the LA airport, a woman checking IDs said to me, "Oh, I’m so sorry. You’re going home to a lot of sadness.” The depth of my homesickness hit me like a punch to the stomach. While in Seattle, I started thinking about how I would get home at the end of October. What would the process be of getting home? It occurred to me then that once you’re home, you’re home; but maybe the journey there was the thing to explore. So it began as a need to explore the process of getting home to NYC, but also an exploration of my larger home of America.
 
Was the road trip a way of dealing with your own grief? How did it help?

It was a way of dealing with my grief, though not a very good way. I think it would have been much easier to fly home at the end of October when my production had closed in Seattle. The immediacy of being back in New York City would have helped my grief more, I think. Instead, I stretched out the intense feeling of homesickness for two added months. Creating the play by taking a journey through America helped me know America and New York City much better, so I think it helped me in terms of feeling closer to my “home.” I suppose, too, that knowing that I was trying to create something that would help New York City and America rebuild, or even heal, may have helped my grieving process.
 
What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned on the trip?

Most Americans, no matter where you go, feel unrepresented. I think the country is so big, and geographically and ethnically so diverse, that the idea that we live in a representative democracy seems untrue to most people. Whether they were liberals or conservatives, rich or poor, religious or secular, black, white or “other,” people feel un-heard. I find it exhilarating, though, that we are so different and we still manage to maintain a peaceful — mostly — “culture war.” I hope we can continue to peacefully absorb our differences into a vibrant diverse country, but I’m not sure we will.
 
What appeals to you about creating documentary-style theater?

Again, I think it’s the diversity of human experience and also the poetry I hear from different regions of the country. I take great delight in discovering how real people string words together to mask their true ideas and feelings.  And how those feelings explode out at often surprising moments. To me, documentary-style theater is a fascinating window into how we manage to live together in this mysterious world. It’s also a new and interesting form of theater for an audience to experience. In a way, the audience becomes me, the interviewer, asking the questions. And as I play the people I met along the way, the adventure of the journey and the strange ways people express themselves engages me and the audience very closely.
 
What’s the significance of the subtitle, Re-Membering America?

America was shattered on 9/11, and though the major media and all our hopes told us that we were one nation, undivided, I really saw that we in fact had been shattered, and I wondered how or when we would build ourselves back together — or if we would. I think it’s clear that we haven’t. We are probably more divided as a country than we were before 9/11. The play is an artistic way of “re-membering” a dismembered country, a country pulled apart. And if I can bring all those contrasts and conflicts onto the stage and then weave them together into a re-membered whole, I hope that I hold out the possibility to the audience that we are all part of this shattered history and we all can play a very active part in rebuilding, reshaping, remembering America.

The Road Home is playing at the Wimberly Theatre, 527 Tremont St., Boston. For tickets and show times, visit www.huntingtontheatre.org. Click above to see a slide show of the production.

Click here to hear WBUR’s Bob Oakes interview Marc Wolf for WBUR FM and wbur.org (6:11).