When Can I Go Home? A Dramatic Nonfiction in Three Acts

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Bley, C. Charles
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School of Letters , School of Letters Thesis 2020 , University of the South , Autobiography , Bley , Home
An autobiography, presented in dramatic form, combining elements of stage play, audiovisual exhibit and stem lecture. Disembodied, prerecorded character voices and video-based scenery and text are inbuilt, to enrich the experience of the story’s themes in a theater setting, as well as to limit cast and venue size. As it appears in print. When Can I Co Home? is equal parts atypically structured nonfiction and augmented play script. These parts overlap most noticeably in, for example, the irregular use of stage directions. The narration in this work is done through multiple incarnations of the main character at different ages, guided by their present-day self, identified as Bley. These characters interact with each other, with other characters, and, to an extent, with a hypothetical audience. Bley's presence remains essentially constant. The implication—of an ongoing and literal dialogue with his past, punctuated by inclusion in the scenery of a laptop computer on a desk behind which Bley is often sitting—is that he is combing through and writing his life story piece by piece, publicly, with assistance from and in the company of his predecessors. Together, they lay bare years of unsavory personal details; Reflection and self-examination are frequently involved. When Can I Co Home? is not solipsistic, however. Its psychological and social themes are broadly applicable and, with the exception of the six-year-old version of Bley, each of the narrators understands this. As much as Bley appears to need the autobiographical task completed for his own peace of mind, he takes full advantage of his access to a captive audience—to force them to recognize the Bleys in their own lives. The frustration and disillusionment motivating he and his younger selves manifest most palpably in Act 111, where the tone (especially in Bley’s monologues) builds to downright accusatory, confrontational. Bley comes by it honestly, if he is to be believed. And, to offset his rancor, there is plenty of humor, especially that of a self-deprecating it's perfectly okay to laugh at my pain nature. Chronologically, each of the story’s three acts strikes a different balance between its underlying straight timeline and context-based forward and backward digressions. Each act also compresses its base timeline differently. Most of Act 1 takes place within a ten-day period. Act 11 covers ten years. While touching farther back in time than Acts 1 and 11, Act 111 also fills in gaps pertaining to the thirteen years from Act Il’s end to the story’s present day. The present here is the “stage’", where all interaction between the narrators takes place. Per the stage directions, it is the living room of Bley’s current residence, which itself is the setting of various stories in When Can I Co Home? Whether a set on the stage or a room on the page, this is the where and when of Bley’s writing process. Although his entire life is examined over the course of the three acts, the main timeline—from the Act 1 chapter “June 29, 2001” to the final present-tense scene near the end of Act 111—begins with an inciting incident: the death of Bley’s best friend and first love, Sam. It is not made clear whether Sam appears in any active form other than as one of the disembodied voices, i.e., in Bley’s imagination and memory. Her image is only necessarily denoted in mentions of still photos, or, the integration of such photos into supplemental video projections. Visitations and funeral services for Sam are the crux of Act I. Much of what follows in acts II and III purports to stem from Bley’s experience with her death, fused with the other major themes in When Can 1 Go Home?', search for place, family dysfunction, substance abuse, and mental illness.