Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Really is far more an exercise in playwriting form than in structure. The relatively sparse script focuses less on storytelling than it does demonstrating the camera’s focal point throughout the play, in its own way tying the story together.
The characters of Mother and Girlfriend serve to explain Calvin who, presumably, has died and has succeeded in his goal to achieve relevance beyond death. The few snapshots we do see of him are either in his conceited seduction of Girlfriend or his objection of Mother’s love and authority in his young life. While this choice makes the true natures of the relationships ambiguous, as any truth in Calvin’s character is clouded by the others characters’ subjectivity, it is an impressive take on how character studies can work on stage. The interactions between Mother and Girlfriend were characterized only by their antithesis. Each had very illuminating monologues at various points in the play, but when together it is a back and forth that shows very little but Mother’s insecurity about her relationship with her son. This is not bad, but takes up far too much time only highlighting this trait. There are some very poignant moments about existing as a woman of color opposed to a white woman, but these are unfortunately few and far between.
The dialogue does a very good job at maintaining the snapshot structure. With little plot actually occurring over the course of the play, the seamless transitions between scenes and moments create the image of photos laid over one another, the moments colliding in a way that only really makes sense just seeing them juxtaposed. Mother can switch from speaking about her youthful desires of being a painter to lecturing Calvin as a child for standing in high places and running with scissors. Similarly, Mother, being in possession of most of the dialogue, is able to color important memories from Girlfriend. Her memories of Calvin not caring about others, while on the surface are refuted by Mother, are actually proved by her pleading with him to stay as he leaves her. But Girlfriend, by her own admission, seems unable to think about Calvin or herself in the present, as revealed in her monologue, calling into question whether either is really able to express reality to the audience. In this case, substituting an unreliable narrator for unreliable characters makes the dialogue more impactful on the audience because we now have to watch how each word is said as opposed to the simple “what” of the message.
The structure of the play is perhaps the most important aspect of the script, as it plays with the motif of snapshot moments in time while the characters take photos of one another. While the actual conversation between Mother and Girlfriend only lasts a short while (about five minutes, according to Drury), the non-chronological method of telling creates a long-reaching series of events all centered around Calvin. Ironically, his own belief that history would remember and, in some small way, revolve around him was fulfilled in the way his story was told. It was not the beginning of his childhood to his eventual death, it was the fallout between him and his mother, his lording superiority over his girlfriend, the effects of his art on both of them, the discussion of art between them, and likely more that the characters experience offstage. In a play that is supposedly centered on the Girlfriend navigating the space of white artists, the white, male artist is still the centerpiece and victor.
Overall, the technical writing of Really creates a magnificent framework in which a story about photographers can be told. However, the play loses sight of its most interesting character and tells us, once again, about how white men succeed in artistic spaces more than others.
by Michael Crecco