‘I was really looking to write a story about how rebirth comes after tragedy’
You don’t have to live on a remote island in the north Atlantic to know that family legacy can be both an anchor and a life preserver. That’s pretty much true for every family on dry land.
Her story is set at the Shipwreck Inn in Newfoundland’s southwest coastal town of Isle aux Morts. Time shifts between 1828 and present day — and sometimes in between. The Harvey family has run this inn for generations, ever since 17-year-old Ann Harvey helped save more than 160 Irish immigrants from a shipwreck and made herself into an instant legend. Nearly two centuries later, Ann Harvey’s namesake, a single woman in her 40s, is eager to welcome tourists (and tourist dollars) to this historic house on the bluffs overlooking Shipwreck Coast, a nickname earned by thousands of wrecks off its rocky shores. If only anyone would come.
Our present-day proprietress could have been someone’s mother if her life had taken a slightly different jib. Instead, she has taken in her sister’s teenage son, Joe-L, a dark and troubled poet who would do anything to get off the island and start his life anywhere else. In the meantime, he’s helping his aunt Ann use the internet to attract visitors to this tear-stained drop in the ocean. And as the very last two remaining people in the storied Harvey line are about to discover anew: Not all those who are lost are lost at sea.
“I was really looking to write a story about how rebirth comes after tragedy and how we persevere through hard times,” said Metzgar, who was Associate Artistic Director at Denver’s Curious Theatre Company from 2004-07 and was named The Denver Post’s Colorado Theatre Person of the Year in 2006 before embarking on a master’s program that produced the first draft of this very play, which she describes as “a Neil Simon comedy inside a really scary seafaring tale.”
While You Lost Me tells the stories of two unrelated and yet very much related Ann Harveys, Metzgar does not think of her play as two distinct tales. “I feel like it’s one epic family saga in the same way that The House of Atreus is one ongoing story,” she said, referencing an elaborate yarn known to many DCPA Theatre Company audiences as starting with Tantalus.
‘What do we do in the face of loss? Do we move forward or continually look to the past?’ – Director Margot Bordelon
Director Margot Bordelon also thinks of You Lost Me as a multi-generational epic poem.
“I’m particularly interested in the questions the play asks surrounding loss and grief,” Bordelon said. “What do we do in the face of loss? Do we move forward or continually look to the past? How does grief shape us? And how is that all passed down?”
You Lost Me was chosen for full production by the DCPA Theatre Company after being introduced at the 2019 Colorado New Play Summit. Shortly after, Artistic Director Chris Coleman sent Metzgar and Bordelon to Isle aux Morts to experience the real world of the play first-hand. The trip was, Metzgar said, like a lighthouse guiding her safely in from the sea.
“We met these two old men who are the history-keepers of the town, and one of them took us out on this little boat to the actual spot where the original Ann Harvey’s house stood,” Metzgar said. It was the first permanent house ever built in Isle aux Morts. Speaking of lighthouses, Metzgar learned on her visit that Newfoundland’s first wasn’t built until 20 years after the shipwreck that made Ann Harvey famous. In those days, captains’ maps simply indicated the location of the Harvey house, which always had a light on.
They also learned that 80 percent of the town’s population of about 650 directly descend from Ann Harvey’s father or his brother, who lived side-by-side on this rocky island. “All those people today are still related to the Harvey family,” Metzgar said. “It’s crazy. It’s so amazing.”
One of the great challenges — and opportunities — of staging the world premiere of You Lost Me in the intimate Ricketson Theatre is trying to capture not only the vastness of the ocean in such a small space but also its terrible foreboding and transformative spirituality.
“The two Ann Harveys and their journeys are at the center of the play,” Bordelon said, “but the landscape of Newfoundland is a main character as well — the raw and wild environment is an omnipresent force.”
So too are the “Voices of the Lost Souls.” Those are the voices of all the thousands who have been silenced at sea. It was important to Metzgar that she include them as a character in the play as well.
“I think the title of my play is standing in the presence of its perfect opposite,” Metzgar said. “When someone dies, that person is gone — and yet that person will never be gone. Yes, mourning is real, and yes, grief is real. But what I think this play is saying is that those who are lost are never fully lost to you. Not really.”
Metzgar says the central question her play — and really all of her work in the live theatre — addresses one simple question: Who are we to each other?
“What I wanted to say with this play is that when you’re in the middle of a storm, no matter how scary the howling wind is, and how many ghosts scream in the night, you have to remember that the water will stop churning,” Metzgar said. A new day will dawn. And the sky is going to be pink. And the sea will be calm. And we will get to start over.
“And I think that’s something. It’s important for all of us to experience together.”
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theatre critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.
Video: Interview with Playwright Bonnie Metzgar
Here is more of John Moore’s conversation with Bonnie Metzgar:
John Moore: What’s this I hear about you and Suzan-Lori Parks and Aretha Franklin?
Bonnie Metzgar: The upcoming third season of National Geographic’s scripted anthology series “Genius” will be devoted to Aretha Franklin, written by Suzan-Lori Parks. They did Einstein and Picasso, and Aretha is the third chapter. It will be an eight-episode retelling of Aretha’s life, and Suzan-Lori is the show-runner. She took me on as one of the staff writers. I’ve been doing that since August. It started shooting just after Thanksgiving.
John Moore: When might we see it on the air?
Bonnie Metzgar: At least some of it will be broadcast by the end of May.
John Moore: Here’s an off-the-wall question that might not be that off-the-wall after all, but have you found there to be any similarities between Aretha Franklin and the original Ann Harvey?
Bonnie Metzgar: The thing they both really make me think about is the way people get trapped. It’s hard to find your way out of the traps you find yourself in. I also think Aretha Franklin and Ann Harvey are both survivors. Ann Harvey – both shipwreck Ann and also Ann in the present day – they lift the boat out of the water onto their backs and continue the living of every day. And here’s the thing about Aretha Franklin: She was no Amy Winehouse. She did not flare up and then burn out. She survived and she persevered and she remade herself. These are both epic tales of survival and triumph because Aretha and Ann alchemized their pain, either into an extraordinary seal-flipper pie or, in Aretha’s case, by reaching her next genius moment through music.
John Moore: I’m sorry, a seal-flipper what?
Bonnie Metzgar: A seal-flipper pie. It’s is a traditional Eastern Canadian meat pie made from harp seal flippers.
John Moore: Oh, I see what you did there. So what would you say You Lost Me is ultimately about?
Bonnie Metzgar: I would say it’s a universal family story where everyone is dealing with the all of the consequences of one character’s bad choices. And in the process, you get to hear all about this historic shipwreck and the history of Newfoundland, which is a strange draw for American tourists who come to the inn seeking transformation. So the story is also about Americans who are looking for answers in faraway places. We’re all searching.
John Moore: Earlier, you described You Lost Me as a comedy. How so?
Bonnie Metzgar: Because it’s very funny. Even when it goes back in time and covers some really harrowing terrain it’s also really funny. We’re Americans. We love to laugh at total, black, horrible tragedy. So it’s a funny play about tragic circumstances. But ultimately, really, you don’t stop laughing the whole time. I don’t know how that’s possible, but that is true.
John Moore: You did something last year I’ve never seen before in the history of the Colorado New Play Summit. You presented one version of your play to the public on the first weekend, and you essentially presented an entirely different version on the second. Where did you get the confidence to do it like that?
Bonnie Metzgar: The Summit was an incredible experience, and it was the audience, really, who gave me the inspiration to do that. I feel the burden of telling Ann Harvey’s story and giving her the fullest journey possible onstage. I came to the Summit with one set understanding of the play, which is really what we presented on the first weekend. But with a group of actors who are that smart and that committed, they really found something more in the play. And I saw what happened in the audience. They began to indicate where the play was going. And I realized, “You know what? I’m not going far enough.” I had to go twice as far as I had been going. The other great thing is not only do you get feedback from all the actors but you also get input from [Artistic Director] Chris Coleman and [Director of New Play Development] Doug Langworthy and all of the really other smart new-play people at the Denver Center. And so between the two public readings, I made this radical other version of the script. That was all afforded to me because unlike most new-play processes, you get to do it wrong here, and then you get to try again. And so we just went all the way.
John Moore: What was one big takeaway from your recent visit to Isle aux Morts?
Bonnie Metzgar: I’m basically adding a whole other layer to the play that I’m calling “The Past Cast,” meaning even before the shipwreck. Most people who came to Isle aux Morts went there to fish because there are huge schools of cod flourishing right off the Grand Banks. And so I’ve just added these fragments that represent someone being out at sea, and someone waiting for them. It’s the idea of safe harbor: When will my love come back to me? When will they be home safe? That’s really the idea of the tide. When will the tide bring the person I love back to me? We all know what that feeling is like. Whether that’s our mother or our child, someone is missing them. And somebody wants them to come home. Ultimately, we find safe harbor in people.
John Moore: Interesting that your play is having its premiere at the same time as the new movie The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Have you seen it?
Bonnie Metzgar: Oh, yeah. It’s awesome. It’s so great.
John Moore: What do you think of the timing?
Bonnie Metzgar: I think because of climate change, there is a real, intense interest in the oceans right now, and our relationship to the oceans. The Lighthouse is a masculine movie about what happens when men are alone, whereas my play is about women in remote landscapes. I think the ocean is a real dramatic partner in both stories, told through very different lenses.
John Moore: That’s a really interesting observation because when you look at movies from The Revenant to 127 Hours to Into the Wild to Life of Pi to Cast Away all way back to Jeremiah Johnson, we typically see movies about men alone in remote landscapes. But I can’t even think of a parallel movie that was told from a woman’s point of view.
Bonnie Metzgar: If you think about the beginning of the Wonder Woman movie, you have a similar kind of warrior woman story. Even The Hunger Games, to some degree. Those are more like the original Ann Harvey because their sheer physical strength and grounded capability far exceeds some of the men she comes into contact with. But no, it’s very rare that a woman gets to be at the heart of these kinds of stories. But one great example you should check out is Unbelievable, which is a Netflix miniseries set in Colorado that stars Merritt Wever and Toni Collette play these detectives. I think they are both akin to Ann Harvey.
You Lost Me: Ticket information
- Dates: Performances January 17 through February 23 (Opens January 24)
- Where: Ricketson Theatre
- Genre: Poetic drama
- Tickets: Start at $30 and can be purchased at 303-893-4100 or in person in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex at 14th and Curtis streets or online by clicking here: