I’ve seen two plays in two weeks, both referencing that Journey song, the one that catches in your head like “It’s a Small World’s" older, cigarette-smoking cousin. Just mentioning it flirts with danger; acknowledge the title and I can kiss the next forty-eight hours goodbye. You know the song. Blaring from every summer street fair, it closed arguably the most influential series in TV history. Even Ellen Page took a crack at it in what I choose to think of as a thinly veiled message to those waiting for her to emulate the first Ellen…if you know what I mean. Who ever thought a 1981 power ballad would influence America’s 21st century art-makers?
Last week I blogged about playwright Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit,” in which the song awkwardly appears, and today I talk to Scott Barsotti, whose inclusion of the hit in his new comedy, “McMeekin Finds Out” seems a bit more organic. A fitting point of reference for a play about a blue collar Pittsburgh family, the song dovetails nicely with McMeekin’s theme of forgiveness. Below, Barsotti discusses the play’s inception and impact. Beware of spoilers and that tenacious song.
Our Town What inspired “McMeekin?”
Scott Barsotti The real McMeekin, a friend of my family [who] has done home improvement work for us for years. One summer, I was home from college, sitting on the couch, he’s been walking in and out of the house all morning, working, busting his ass, and finally he comes through, drenched with sweat, covered in paint, sawdust, dirt and he looks at me, sitting there in my gym shorts playing video games and says to me: “Don’tchu do nothin’?” At the time I thought it was a pretty hilarious truth to throw in my face, as did my parents. Years later [when] I started writing this play, I thought a lot about what it means to be a “doer,” someone who does vs. someone who doesn’t (or can’t). That idea led to the characters of Guy and Pam, a couple used to working with their hands who suddenly cannot, and what that obstacle does to the way they interact with the world, their kids, and each other.
OT Your show derives laughs from a loaded topic, rape. Were you leery about joking about something so sensitive?
SB It was important to me that the comedy always [comes] not from the subject but from the problem at hand and the response to that problem. The challenge was walking right up to that line. Everyone in the play is aware of what a big deal [rape] is and they don’t take the act itself or even the word lightly. In a lot of ways “McMeekin” is about the ways we get it wrong: misinterpreting situations, overreacting, blaming the wrong people for the wrong things, even victimizing victims. Sometimes the extent to which we get it wrong is so outrageous and absurd that it can be nothing but funny.
OT What do you hope people get from the show?
SB First and foremost I hope people have fun. I want to show people something they haven’t seen before. During previews I had several people from Pittsburgh approach me and tell me how much they enjoyed the play, the use of the dialect, the references, just the overall portrait. That’s really meaningful to me, that it passes that test. But beyond that, I hope people find themselves surprised by what’s funny in the play.
Scott T. Barsotti is a playwright and actor originally from Pittsburgh, PA. His plays include “The Revenants,” “Jet Black Chevrolet, and “Coydog,” and have been seen in Chicago, New York, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh, with upcoming productions in Los Angeles and Boston.