The Rhode Island Trilogy

RosesMoney copyThe theatrical trilogy has a long pedigree, reaching back as far as Aeschylus’ Oresteia. We, as a collective audience, have now come to expect stories to come in threes. Whether it is Wagner, Lucas, Tolkien, Coppola, Simon or McDonagh, it seems that three is the magic number, even if that final installment gasps across the finish line (Godfather III, anyone?). However, it seems to be the case that trilogies work best when predetermined, rather than just a cash-in attempt to milk a brand. Other successful sequels arrive organically as the result of a common thread or narrative that simply share characters or elements with the other stories and can stand alone. As a writer, it is gratifying to revisit particular places and people and explore them from a different angle without necessarily having to feel the pressure of a direct sequel. As an audience, seeing each installment of a series of connected stories makes that experience richer as pieces fall together and intertwining plotlines unfold over the years.

The Ocean State now has its own trilogy care of the always prolific Kevin Broccoli. The final installment of what Broccoli reluctantly refers to as “The Rhode Island Trilogy” is now in its final performances of an extended run at Mixed Magic Theater in Pawtucket. Rose’s Money follows The House in Providence and The Diner and Mr. Stone (all three directed by MM artistic director Jonathan Pitts-Wiley) as the third in a series of plays about the vanishing middle class and everyday financial hardship.

“Virtually nobody is dealing with student loans. Nobody is talking about people who are impoverished. There’s a lot of really wonderful, quirky plays (being written and produced) and I think those are wonderful, but it worries me that seemingly no one is talking about financial hardship,” says Broccoli when asked about the common themes of the trilogy. Family certainly comes to the forefront as well and Rose’s Money encapsulates all of the topics addressed in the first two installments (see Motif’s review of Rose at motifri.com/roses-money-is-a-gem/).

Motif asked Broccoli if he set out to create a trilogy or was it more an evolution over the past few years of writing plays centering on these common themes? “Really, it was just supposed to be House,” says Broccoli. “When I wrote the second one (Diner) or when I started writing it, I didn’t think it would connect to House, but I’m a big nerd so I can’t resist the idea of a shared universe. Once I had two, clearly there had to be a third because you can never just write two connected plays,” he adds, tongue in cheek.

An adaptation of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, The House in Providence opened at Mixed Magic Theater in June 2013 at their former Hope Artiste Village space making the now defunct Phoenix Magazine’s Best of the Year List (providence.thephoenix.com/arts/154498-one-day-at-a-time/). The Diner and Mr. Stone opened in the new Mineral Spring Avenue space in November 2014, starring Ricardo Pitts-Wiley and Hannah Lum (motifri.com/dinermrstone/).

“It wasn’t so much the goal for House, but the goal for Diner was to show that you can write a play about people who don’t have much money, and those people can be smart, they can be witty, they can be funny, they can have a lighthearted view about their very dark situation. I think the perception is that if you write about financial hardship, you’re going to have to write a really depressing play, and I wanted to prove that wrong,” says Broccoli.

The semi-autobiographical Rose’s Money came about as part of a one-week season where Broccoli wrote five plays in a week.  Due to a successful run that started in February, Mixed Magic has now extended performances through March 12. We asked Broccoli if there has been any consideration of running the trilogy in rep to give audiences a chance to see the works as a whole. He says that while the idea has been considered, “The logistics of that seem incredibly tricky.”

And, although an intentional trilogy, running all three at once does not appear to be Broccoli’s goal. “Once I thought of it as a trilogy, my goal was to make them as loosely connected as possible so that you could stand (each) on its own,” he says. “So you end up with an adaptation, a two-hander and an ensemble piece. Ultimately, I like that it shows a representation of the middle class. I read a lot of plays and I’m startled at how few plays are being written about the middle class, the financial situation that so much of this country is in.”
It is that thematic element (as well as geography) that ties the plays together more than anything else. Only one character appears more than once — Sarah (The House in Providence, Rose’s Money) — but multiple characters are mentioned in all three plays (Kerissa Rodericks has played Sarah in both plays; Hannah Lum and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley have played two different characters in two of the pieces). In a political and social climate where race, money and family struggles are all too familiar, the Rhode Island Trilogy rings true not only locally, but nationally as well. Broccoli’s personal experience may factor into these pieces, but does not feature as prominently as, say, Neil Simon’s does in his Eugene Trilogy.  As Mixed Magic brings down the curtain on Part Three, we’re challenged to revisit our mutual struggles yet again and realize that we all have a common state.

Tickets for the remaining performances of Rose’s Money can be purchased online at mmtri.com.


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