For some dramatists, life informs fiction. Author Sean Grennan took the motivation to the hilt, drawing inspiration from his own life as well as that of others. Grennan’s The Tin Woman, which sees its Long Island premiere at BroadHollow this month, is based on his personal loss as well as a random newspaper clipping.
A woman recovers from a heart transplant and subsequently becomes overwhelmed with guilt and depression. Meanwhile, her late donor’s parents find coping with their loss to be equally difficult. “The show asks some big questions…like ‘what are we all doing here?’ And I know I’m punching against my weight class by even asking, so I don’t answer them,” said Grennan.
In 1994, this Chicago acting veteran made a shift towards playwriting after he and his wife penned the book for the spoofy regional hit, Phantom of the Country Palace. Beer for Breakfast, Making God Laugh, A Dog’s Life and other comedies and musicals followed. In contrast to this lighthearted output, Grennan was moved to write The Tin Woman after his sister sent him an article about a family dealing with survivor’s guilt. “So I started off thinking in terms of a fun romantic comedy, but I let the characters talk and became more interested in the family’s reaction to grief. The play became more about healing and getting past these things.”
In the course of writing The Tin Woman Grennan lost his father, forcing him to consider his existence and confront the concepts of mortality and loss on a deeper level. The experience and his extensive research on survivor’s guilt provided the emotional thrust of the piece. “I found out that while some [survivors] get a wonderful new lease on life, others get guilt.” Grennan learned that survivors are often unsure if they’re worthy of a second chance, especially if someone had to die for that to happen, yet he included much humor in The Tin Woman.
“I’ve written many comedies and I’m fairly good at that. But I have a tendency to hide behind humor. If a show isn’t going well, I’ll put in jokes.” Grennan kept in mind his inclination to add laughs during the show’s 2014 debut at Wisconsin’s venerable Peninsula Players. “Writing is re-writing,” Grennan sighed. “Like, ‘I don’t need to say this six times,’ or ‘this has three different endings.’” And when jokes got in the way of truth? “I saw the show several times during the run and still changed things before I gave it to the publisher and said, ‘we’re done.’ Sometimes, things just have to sit and be uncomfortable.”
The Tin Woman plays Nov 14-29 at BroadHollow at Elmont. (516) 775-4420, broadhollow.org.