RE:UNION is featured in The Province today! Below is the article written by Lena Sing (available in its original context here), and you can check out the video they created about the show here.
In November 1965 Norman Morrison, a Quaker, peace activist and teacher, drove to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., doused himself with kerosene and lit a match.
By setting himself on fire, Morrison made the ultimate sacrifice in protest of the Vietnam War. The message was aimed directly at Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, whose office was above Morrison’s chosen location for self-immolation.
His death became headline news and not just for its extremeness. Also drawing the world’s attention was his daughter Emily. Just nine days shy of turning one, Morrison had brought her with him, though she was found completely unharmed.
More than forty years later, Morrison’s death has long faded from public memory. But when Vancouver playwright Sean Devine first read about this real-life tale three years ago, he was immediately struck by Morrison’s act.
Devine, who’s first play Re:Union is based on Morrison’s story, instinctively knew this was a tale worth exploring, with all its complicated questions about social and personal responsibility and the messy implications of taking action, or not.
“Regardless of whether he intended to kill her [his daughter], he knowingly accepted a fate that he would no longer see her again. He knowingly said ‘I’m willing to give up seeing that amazing little girl for the rest of my life, as well as my other two kids, as well as my wife, as well as life itself’ and that kind of commitment that is not from an insane person, but is from someone who just cares so deeply, it just blew me away,” said Devine, a father of two.
Re:Union, produced by Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre, is not a strict re-telling of historical events but rather a story rooted partly in fact, partly in fiction. It starts with Morrison’s death (fact) and fast-forwards to post 9/11 when a grown-up Emily returns to the scene of her father’s death and confronts McNamara (fiction).
There are difficulties, of course, in writing a play based on real people and partially real events. Devine knew it was important to get the family’s input. So after writing his first draft based on as much available research as possible, including a memoir written by Morrison’s widow, Anne, he contacted the family.
Feeling slightly terrified, he sent them his play.
“They sent back a really long letter and basically said although they completely appreciate my intentions, there’s so much in what I’ve written that they can’t support because it was so factually wrong and not just factually wrong but wrong according to their characters,” says Devine.
With the family’s feedback, the character of Emily went from passive and broken-up about her father’s actions to an ardent supporter of her father’s act, something the real Emily clearly expressed to him, says Devine.
Re:Union could be read both on a macro and micro level. On the one hand, it asks big questions about our role in shaping society and how we live by our beliefs. On a more intimate level, it’s about a father’s relationship with his daughter.
In real life, the consequences of Morrison’s death would not be fully revealed for decades. While cynics perhaps saw only that his sacrifice did not end the war, McNamara admitted in a 1996 memoir that he had misgivings about the war and that Morrison’s death stirred those feelings and deepened public dissent.
Evan Frayne, who plays Morrison, says the play speaks directly to our times and the constant struggle to do what’s right for society, our families and ourselves.
“It’s a lovely story about a father and his daughter and it’s about a moment of them connecting. It’s how his passion re-ignites her passion to live the way she believes is right,” he says.