In Williamstown, Harrison David Rivers looks at himself through his mother’s eyes in “we are continuous”

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Rivers’ “We Are Continuous” is perhaps his most autobiographical work to date, drawn from his experiences as a gay man growing up in a family where his sexuality was rarely discussed, his romantic relationship with his parents and his HIV diagnosis in 2018. The play receives its world premiere at the Williamstown Theater Festival August 2-14, directed by Tyler Thomas and starring Leland Fowler, Tom Holcomb and Brenda Pressley. The play was commissioned by Williamstown in 2019 and continues Rivers’ ongoing association with the theater, where her play “Where Storms Are Born” was produced to rave reviews in 2017.

Told in a changing series of direct-to-address monologues from its three characters, “We Are Continuous” focuses on the close bond between a writer, Simon (Fowler), and his mother, Ora (Pressley). When he was younger, she was his confidante, his protector and his champion. But as a teenager, Simon revealed himself to her and her father as devout evangelical Christians, and their dynamic changed. For years, they rarely talked about his sexuality or his relationships. After her parents choose not to attend her wedding to her now-husband (Holcomb), their relationship fractures. When he is diagnosed with HIV, will this revelation be too much to handle? And can his mother’s unconditional love for her son last?

“I’ve always been very interested in my mum because she’s an amazing woman, outgoing, bubbly and super smart but also quite opaque in the sense that I never really know what she thinks about things politically or socially.” says Rivers, who grew up in Kansas and now lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. “She tends to side with my father. They are a team and I respect that arrangement. But in my gay life, it’s always been a bit sticky.

The play, he says, is “an opportunity for me to pretend that I had unlimited access to my mother and for her to tell her side of the story, which is completely drawn from my imagination but certainly influenced by her reactions. at times in my life. life.”

Indeed, many of the events depicted in the play are drawn from his life. “I don’t necessarily know what conclusions my mother drew [those events]. But it was an opportunity to hear from this person that I love very much and yet I can’t always share everything she feels because our relationship has limits on our ability to express ourselves.

Writing the play, Harrison says, was an act of empathy. “It’s really easy as a young person to fixate on their side of the story and put aside everyone’s experience of that same event and how it might have changed them or changed their point of view. seen.”

Given the country’s current polarization, Rivers says, “we should think about what it’s like to see the world from someone else’s perspective. I look at my mother with much more grace than before, and there is a new source of love for this woman that contains multitudes that I do not have access to.

In her own life, Rivers says her HIV diagnosis has been a “rallying point” for her family, which includes three younger brothers. “There’s something about being confronted with the mortality of someone you love. Hearts are softened. I’m not sure beliefs have changed, but compassion has increased.

When director Thomas first read the play, she felt Rivers had “captured that balance between something utterly thrilling, which takes you on a relentless ride, but is heartfelt and tender and curious at the same time. time”.

The set includes a living room divided in two, each side reflecting the different worlds of mother and son. “So there is a continuity that is interrupted,” she says. “And then how do you create a shot where the actors can spend most of their time with the audience as stage partners for the monologues, but where they can also go through their own memories and relive their stories?”

In the play, the characters must decide if they want to bridge the chasm and figure out how to renew their bonds. “The play is about three brave individuals who, despite their fear, despite their apprehensions about each other and the world they find themselves in, have chosen to share their hearts,” Rivers says. “They choose to be vulnerable with the public, with each other.

“There is no real connection without vulnerability. And I believe that connection – finding ways to connect with each other, regardless of our beliefs, affiliations, etc. – is essential to improving the world in which we live.

WE ARE CONTINUOUS

Presented by the Williamstown Theater Festival. At ’62 Center for Theater and Dance, Nikos Stage, Williamstown. August 2-14. $65. 413-458-3253, www.wtfestival.org

Christopher Wallenberg can be reached at chriswallenberg@gmail.com.

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