On this year’s Halloween night, theatergoers will have a chance to witness a play that explores power, obsession and murder.
Directed by Evan Yionoulis, a resident director at the Yale Repertory Theatre, “Owners” by Caryl Churchill will open at the Rep on Oct. 31. The play, which is set in the 1970’s, centers on an ambitious London real estate agent named Marion who repeatedly tries to persuade a family to move out of one of her properties, whereas in the meantime, her husband Clegg is plotting her death. Yionoulis said the concept of possession pervades the play, as characters view nearly all aspects of life with a “yours versus mine” mentality.
“People view love, relationships and marriage through the lens of ownership … there is no pure love in this play,” Yionoulis said. “Churchill chooses that idea of possession and ownership in a global sense.”
The obsessive desire to possess power, oftentimes over each other, drives many of the characters make extreme decisions, Yionoulis explained. Marion’s financial success makes her shun the idea of the male-dominated relationship Clegg wants, Yionoulis explained, noting that Clegg only wants to kill Marion because he sees it as the only way to have all of her affection. Joby Earle DRA ’10, who plays Marion’s protégé and admirer Worsely, said his character would do anything to please Marion and earn her love, including evicting a pregnant woman and her family from their home. Brenda Meaney DRA ’13, who plays Marion, said she thinks it is unclear whether Marion prioritizes the power she asserts over herself, her career or the people in her life.
Yionoulis emphasized how their strong desire to be loved oftentimes pushes the characters to take extreme actions.
“Human passion drives people to ridiculous ends,” she said.
Meaney and Earle also spoke of the suffering all of the characters experience, adding that their actions may be influenced by their desire to eliminate it. Recounting the history of working class British women in the 1970’s, Meaney said that Marion’s suffering largely stems from her inability to embody the intense Christian work ethic while being married to someone who wants her to take on a subordinate role. Earle said that Worsely must either harm others on Marion’s orders or abandon his hopes of earning her affection. This conflict makes Worsely suffer, Earle explained — a suffering that may be the cause of his multiple suicide attempts.
“[Worsely] has to either figure out how people distract themselves from their hardships, continue to follow Marion, or kill himself,” Earle said.
Noting the relationship between the play and the gender politics of the era, Yionoulis said that Churchill explores the goals of the feminist movement developing in England during that decade. She added that Churchill creates a negative image of capitalism by depicting Marion as financially ambitious to the point of treating everything around her, including the people in her life, as property.
“Churchill shows us the monstrosity of portraying Marion as a feminist ideal,” Yionoulis said. “We see what the conclusions of her ethics are and where they take her.”
Despite the seemingly unfortunate events in the play’s plotline, Yionoulis, Meaney and Earle all emphasized that the play is humorous from the perspective of the audience. Yionoulis said that Churchill creates humor in the play by revealing contradictory behaviors within the characters: Clegg, for instance, inflicts large amounts of pain as a butcher but is himself afraid of pain. Meaney noted the influence of “dark British farcical comedies” on the piece and explained that much of the characters’ misery is portrayed in a “hilarious” manner. The characters are not trying to be funny but still find themselves performing ridiculous actions, Earle said, which adds to the play’s sense of humor.
The next production in the Rep’s 2013-14 Season will be “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” by Dario Fo, which opens in December.