Whether you like them or even watch them, you know what to expect from a Western: the wanted posters, the archetypical characters, death by hanging, a reckoning between characters… you know the drill.
But what if that Western had a mostly female cast and production team? And what if the action of the play was not to track down a stolen horse, but rather a clinical abortion? And what if the play explored the body, relationships, and love?
Then you’d have The Maggie Tree’s upcoming presentation of Jill Connell’s The Supine Cobbler, running April 14 – 23 at The Backstage Theatre.
When asked the difficult question of what happens in the play, playwright Jill Connell says, “The action of the play is the Cobbler has a clinical abortion. She arrives in the clinic and over the course of the 90 minutes in the theatre she leaves the clinic having had an abortion. That is the action that enfranchises what the play is actually about, which is about relationships and… how the experience of a clinical abortion can contain or be a way to investigate femininity and to investigate feeling very alone amidst all these relationships. It can be a way to investigate love and to investigate the body. It’s a procedure that happens to the body and a procedure that happens only to bodies with a uterus… It’s not about goodness and morality at all. It’s about truth and impulse and people who do ultimately really try hard to figure out their destinies.”
Jill describes The Supine Cobbler as a true ensemble piece that focuses on exploring the intricacies of the relationships between the characters, who are identified only by descriptors: the Cobbler, the Dancer (the Cobbler’s sister, who is dead by hanging), the Lover (the Cobbler’s best friend, missing presumed dead), the Kid (the Cobbler’s apprentice), and the Doctor (the person who will perform the procedure and also narrates the play). The characters are all brought into the clinic by the different things they want from the Cobbler. “The Lover and the Dancer – her sister and her best friend – return because they have a debt to settle with her…The Doctor is there to do the procedure. The Kid is the person you bring with you, at this particular clinic you need to bring a friend with you to take you home… They all have something to settle with Cobbler and by doing that they are all enfranchising her.”
The Supine Cobbler will be brought to life by The Maggie Tree’s awesome cast of Lora Brovold, Kristi Hansen, Jayce Mckenzie, Michelle Milenkovic, and Melissa Thingelstad. Jill says, “The Supine Cobbler is a play that takes place at the edge of instinct and mastery. It’s truly a performance piece by an ensemble of five women who are vulnerable and brave enough to go on stage and in real-time try to find the play.”
Thematically, Jill says The Supine Cobbler explores themes of blood and family, friendship as ‘the ultimate romance’, and – above all – integrity and sense of self. “The play is mostly a reckoning with the self. What the Cobbler has to come to terms with is the relationship with herself. There’s all this investigation of who has done who wrong, or who has had the greatest tragedies or who loves who the most and what are they supposed to do. Over the course of the play, we see the Cobbler basically go from a place of inaction to being able to have the abortion procedure, which really brings her forward in an active way. All these relationships descend on her in this moment and come to a boiling point… and then we see her leave alone and it’s a reckoning with the self – what are we made of and how to activate who we want to be in the world given these crazy circumstances.”
The Supine Cobbler was written and developed over four years, starting when Jill was reflecting on her own experience of abortion and the experiences she gleaned from others over the course of her work and volunteerism at Planned Parenthood and the Morgentaler Clinic. Jill says the impetus to write the play wasn’t the abortion but rather the integrity behind the decision to have the procedure, “It wasn’t writing about the abortion specifically, it was more that it was an action that I took that I felt had a lot of integrity… The play is also about how to interface with this world that you can’t fully control and how to be a person of integrity and what that means in our society and how making decisions that you think have integrity the rest of society might not agree with or so it seems.”
Jill found the Western genre was a good fit with what she wanted to put on stage with The Supine Cobbler in terms of both the themes she wanted to explore as well as being a fun and accessible genre to work with, “I wanted to write a hero myth for girls. I grew up watching Westerns as a kid and I always wanted to be a man, which I think was just a confusion over I wanted to be a person who could have adventures. Westerns have followed these classic heroes journeys… there are these archetypal storytelling tropes that we’re all familiar with.”
This is Jill’s third time working with The Maggie Tree (previously on the première of her play HROSES: An Affront to Reason and the company’s 2014 Monstrosities), and Jill says there’s a certain magic when she works with The Maggie Tree. “Because they are a female-centric company it seems like such a good match. It shouldn’t be a political thing to have women in leadership roles, but in the theatre industry, it continues to be a political thing because it is very rare. I don’t know what makes it different, but there is a difference when you’re working with 10 women in the room. The Maggie Tree really seems to delight in taking risks. For that reason they program a longer rehearsal process.. that alone means they have set up a process where you can take risks and ask questions because you have time to not know… and find what you’re looking for.”