By Charlie O'Malley, Literary Management and Dramaturgy Intern
Each year, the Goodman’s literary department commissions four Chicago-based playwrights to create new works under the auspices of the Goodman Playwrights Unit. This year we are blessed to be working with Nambi E. Kelly, Elaine Romero, Philip Dawkins and Martín Zimmerman. Each month, the playwrights, Tanya Palmer, our director of new play development, and Neena Arndt, associate dramaturg, all meet to read, discuss and improve upon their projects. Ask Aunt Susan, our final partially produced play of New Stages Amplified, was written by Seth Bockley as part of last year’s Playwrights Unit and begins performances this Thursday in the Owen Theatre. Ask Aunt Susan pointedly looks at identity, anonymity and the nature of honesty in the internet age. The Goodman is thrilled to close the series with this sharp, witty new comedy.
Bockley’s play takes its inspiration from Nathanael West’s 1933 novella Miss Lonelyhearts, about a male newspaper reporter in the Great Depression who writes a self help column as “Miss Lonelyhearts.” Ask Aunt Susan tells the story of a man who finds a job responding to desperate pleas of sorrow on a self-help website under the pseudonym “Aunt Susan.” His website quickly becomes a viral hit with a wealth of followers seeking guidance from this loving internet creation. His boss, Steve, wants to monetize the Aunt Susan brand, and his girlfriend, Betty, finds that he can’t share his attention between the woman in his real life and the women in his internet life. The real “Aunt Susan” becomes overwhelmed by the responsibility of listening to countless woes and grows terrified that his true identity will be discovered.
In an age in which Twitter aids in revolutions and Steve Jobs’ death garnered more attention than Gaddafi’s, Ask Aunt Susan questions our reliance on the digital. As we come to define ourselves by our Facebook profiles and answer our all our questions on Wikipedia, our real identities can start to fall by the wayside. Bockley asks: How can we define ourselves in real life when we are so focused on our digital personas? And how can we know that what we see on the internet is true? Ask Aunt Susan is a timely, hilarious and ultimately extremely compelling questioning of who we are and who we can be in the age of the internet.
Each performance of Ask Aunt Susan will be followed by a talkback with artists who worked on the show and led by members of the Goodman’s artistic staff. All audience members are invited to share their thoughts, voice their questions and take part in the process of creating a new work of drama.