I’ll admit, this play is tricky to write about. Adam Bock’s A SMALL FIRE is a gentle, quiet and, ultimately, deeply moving expression of what it means to be alive.
Exactly; a simple story about … everything.
Bock brings us the character of Emily Bridges, a tough, self-made construction company CEO, who suffers no fools or nonsense, either professionally or personally. She depends heavily on her construction manager Billy Fontaine, who sometimes plays the additional role of family friend. Emily’s husband John clearly hovers in the background of their relationship, and their adult daughter, Jenny – not particularly close to Mom – is poised to embrace a fresh start with her impending marriage.
Into this uneasy status quo comes and unidentified phenomenon? Syndrome? Disease? which gradually brings profound and, seemingly, irrevocable change to the Bridges’ household. How this mysterious intrusion alters the lives of the family becomes the journey of discovery that playwright Bock has prepared for his audience. It is a journey which is much better experienced than described, and so, with no spoiler alerts necessary, I leave it to the play to explain further.
The play does, however, generate rather provocative questions for which I have no good answers, only more questions.
The play challenges me by asking, “Who am I? What is my personal identity? What makes me, Me? And how would I manage if that identify, that self-image, the ‘story of Me’ were suddenly lost?”
As per usual, I start to look for answers close to home.
My dad, Harry A. Cecsarini, was a first generation Italian-American who grew up in Cleveland, was educated as an engineer, served in World War II, and then set out to grab his slice of the American Dream. Along the way, he met and married Alice Hitchcock, and they created a family, with kids Linda, Lois and David.
Family photos show the Cecsarini’s as 1950s quintessential: split-level house, Chevy in the garage, 4th of July, Happy Halloween, Merry Christmas with all the trimmings.
Dad was gone a lot. His classic breadwinner job required many hours and plenty of overseas travel, which he enjoyed. He also identified strongly with his job; it was the yardstick with which to measure his success. As many people do, I think my dad saw his life mainly through the lens of his career. And when that career ended too soon and too quietly, things changed.
At the same time that Mom was establishing herself as a top-notch school principal’s assistant, Dad established himself in his chair, homebound. And although he south out activities and hobbies, he never latched onto a pursuit which would adequately engage hi time, talent and attention, and gradually faded into himself. Mom faithfully and lovingly cared for him till the end, in 1996. And yet, throughout his decline, she coaxed from him nearly every bit of himself which remained, though rendered inaccessible to anyone else.
My mom is a phenomenon of devotion and love.
In A SMALL FIRE, Emily Bridges faces increasing challenges to her health, her ability to work and eventually, to her self-identity. She and her family must either meet these challenges together and remain whole, or suffer the consequences of fear, pain and defeat. Adam Bock’s heart-rending play offers us an intimate and inspirational look inside this deeply personal struggle of a family crisis. He shows us there is strength and hope in the phenomenon of love.
Perhaps we know this to be true, but it never hurts to say it again.
See you at the theatre.