Sara Farrington’s two-act play, Leisure, Lust, opened at Art House Productions’ new space at Cast Iron Lofts in Jersey City on October 26 and runs through November 12. The performance on the 12th, will include the first-ever staged reading of a new third act, Labor, which will be performed between Leisure and Lust.
Talk a bit about how Labor fits into this work as a whole.
Sara Farrington: I always wanted it to be a three-part piece. I’ve been sketching Labor out for years, and it never was right. We did a lot of different versions. I worked with the director, Marina, and with the actors, and at one point, I kind of gave up in a fit of frustration. Then while working on the piece for Art House, it suddenly came to me really quickly, and I wrote Labor in the last three months or so. We’ve been rehearsing it, but we’ve never actually staged it before. For the performance on November 12, Labor will come in between Leisure and Lust. We’ve thought about doing the acts in a different order, but this is the way we originally structured it, so that’s how we’re going to present it. I’ve done it in my brain in different orders. There are dramaturigal questions that are yet to be answered. It’s still a work in progress. That’s why this Art House residency is so great for me. We’ll be having a talk back after the performance on the 12th and I’m looking forward to hearing the audience’s feedback.
The characters Grace and Harry Hunter in Leisure, Lust are based on novelist Edith Wharton and her husband Teddy. Wharton was so wealthy that the expression, “Keeping up with the Joneses” referred to her father’s family. You’ve said that Leisure and Lust are about affluence—how it corrupts and what it hides and reveals. What is Labor about? Who are the main characters? And how does Labor relate to the other two pieces?
SF: Edith was from one of the richest families in the country. I read that she once spent $40,000 on one yacht trip—a huge amount of money at the time. The reasons she was able to cultivate herself back then as a female artist was because she had all the money in the world and because she was free of the responsibilities that most women in America had. She sat in bed and wrote all the time—writing and socializing, writing and socializing.
Labor is about two servants, Gilbert, who is British, and Lucy, who is Irish. For them, the idea of being an artist, like Grace and Harry want to be, or of having an affair and wanting to run away with someone are notions that are secondary to more serious worries about feeding yourself and making sure that your kids stay alive. The servants are in awe of what they consider the insane behavior of their employers, commenting on things like Grace taking a bath twice in one day and assigning different colored stationery to each type of correspondence. In the world of the first act, Leisure, these things are exciting and fun to watch, but then in the second act, Labor, seen through the servants’ eyes, these things become laughable. That’s why Labor is very funny, with lots of joking banter between the two servants. Grace and Harry Hunter appear in Labor as silent characters, dressed up as birds, which is how the servants view their bosses. The idea of freedom, when you are a servant, especially if you’re a servant who is not American, is pretty limited. Labor brings Leisure into perspective, because for Gilbert and Lucy, life is about survival.
Labor is really about class, even more so than the other two pieces. We see and hear the servants talking in a way that allows us to view the rich people reflected in their mirror. What do you hope audiences will take away from the work?
SF: Class is imbedded in Leisure and Lust, but in Labor it’s really shown in relief. I hope the work will get the audience to think about different views of class and the ways that class has completely trapped us. We’re not supposed to be a class society in America, but obviously, we are. I hope people will think about the different ways they have been affected by class that they may not even realize.
The biggest thing for me, and which some audience members have pointed out, is that no matter what your station in life, you’re human, and your misery feels the same. Grace, leading such a privileged life, might not seem sympathetic. You think: “You have all the money in the world—why should you be so miserable?” Lucy points this out to Grace in Leisure. But you feel sympathy for all of the characters: for Grace, for the servants, and certainly for the gay love story in Act 3. Everybody feels the same suffering.
Leisure, Lust is at Art House Productions (262 17th Street, Jersey City) Thursdays to Sundays, through Sunday, November 12. Labor will be performed as a staged reading during the November 12 3pm performance of Leisure, Lust.