October Round-Up IV: THE ARGUMENT Moves From the Rehearsal Room Into Previews

Rarely have we had a more intimate, more raw or realistically rendered work as The Argument, Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros’ play that’s been such an emotional work-out for all involved, especially the amazing cast and their director, Shirley Serotsky, Associate Artistic Director of our theater. A glimpse into the rehearsal process can be gleaned by this rehearsal photo and the features which have supported it.

Susan Rome and James Whalen in rehearsals

Susan Rome and James Whalen in rehearsals

This fine Washington Post feature has some wonderful quotes from our playwright, and a longer interview with her can be found here. As we’ve moved into the theater, we’ve gone from sharing this intimate chamber piece with a tiny room of fellow art-makers to almost-fully-packed preview performances where the piece takes on a size, is filled out by hulking set pieces (including not one but two working refrigerators), and where all the other theatrical elements support the primal issues that are laid bare in this initially hopeful and romantic play about two people finding each other and falling in love mid-life.

Suan Rome and James Whalen on stage (production photos by Stan Barouh)

Susan Rome and James Whalen on stage (production photos by Stan Barouh)

Midway through, as a disagreement begins to tear at the fabric of their relationship, the dramatic blood pressure begins to rise.

In spite of a therapeutic intervention.

Jefferson Russell as Herb, the Imago Therapist

Jefferson Russell as Herb, the Imago Therapist

Finally, things get rough. And a fridge gets moved.

Fridge anguish

Comments shared after preview #1 included:
“This is what theater’s all about!”
That was the first comment during the talk-back.
“The whole production was perfection!”
That was the last comment from the talk-back.
In the middle, profound identification (“this was totally raw, life-like), split allegiances between Phillip and Sophie, appreciation for both the comic relief and the gut wrenching rawness — Oh, and one guy thought the “shit in a can” speech was “totally disgusting!” So not everyone was completely moved.

Our student subscribers took in preview #2. From the comments shared by those 22 or under, I have a feeling we were seeing a generational split. Some intense brush-back or pull-back or alienation from the harsh turn of tone in the play. I’d like to learn more about the variety of responses. And we’ll have a chance to read comments below. My comments — my introduction to how The Argument fits into our vision for our season of “Crucial Questions, Critical Fault-lines, Necessary Conversations” can be found on the jump/next page.

Oh, but one nice thing worth noting: the shit-in-a-can speech, after notes and important adjustments got the laughs we wanted and needed.  That’s what previews are all about!  Onto previews #3 and #4 this weekend!

Artistic Director’s Statement

We begin with hope. We begin with attraction. We begin with promise and the possibility of renewal. Even at our age, having suffered disappointment, or exasperation, or a few rough-and-tumble disputes in our past, we enter the arena of our adult lives with the palpable sense that a new marriage of differences might be achieved. And so we identify with the attractive, 40-something couple at the center of The Argument. We are both Sophie and we are Phillip; creative and business-minded; independent yet craving new companionship; vested in leaving behind some kind of legacy, yet (some of us, at least) insistent upon the freedom not to be tied to conventional lifestyle or family-tethered choices.

Not only do we see ourselves as individuals in Sophie and Phillip (and both compelling sides of their “debate,” as it is soon to unfold); we are also encouraging theater-goers—indeed our theater company as a whole—to see ourselves as directly involved and touched by this evocative allegory. In other words, this play, seemingly about an utterly secularized New York couple, is in fact a perfect Washington story of political brinksmanship and also a troubling emblem for the scorched earth debates that occasionally divide our Jewish community, indeed with increasing ferocity. Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros’ play, first produced in 2005 and now importantly revised and reconsidered for 2013, has found its moment, as both a taut relationship drama and a haunting personalization of a larger political phenomenon; our inability to staunch the polarization of our once tightly-knit society. We are mortally, brutally injuring each other and The Argument is a heartfelt plea that we return to the therapist’s office to work out our differences; to come to an understanding; to let empathy and reason temper our will to vindicate, vilify and triumph over the other.

And so a caution: there is metaphor at play here, not so much as intended by the playwright, but as suggested by the placement of the playwright’s play here, in DC, in this Center with us, at this very moment. There is a private dispute between lovers that winds up speaking for a larger public drama gripping our nation and the Jewish community at large. And all the while, our culture’s been very quiet—which is to say timid, or reluctant—about engaging in the most important of third-rail debates; in this case, about abortion. It’s just too divisive. So Hollywood’s shied away. So has the theater. This is Theater J’s way of not shying away; of holding up a mirror to a most intimate relationship and seeing the wound that’s been wrought by people who love(d) each other. We have it within us to lay waste to the field where we once played; to engage in vituperative battle; or we can seek more ameliorative measures. Even when we grapple with Solomonic justice, which is to say deeply difficult choices and compromises, there must be a way out of the stalemate, the end-game debate.

Our government’s been shut down for over 11 days and counting as we write these words and rehearse this play, as we collectively wait for one party to give an inch and the other to accept. But accepting compromise is well-nigh impossible when both sides feel they are resolutely correct and certain of that rightness. Our playwright ingeniously holds out a solution; there is a way out of this Gordian Knot. Are we brave enough to take it? Can Sophie and Phillip bend sufficiently, softened by empathy? If one of them should falter, will the other be there to support, or to pronounce victory?

There is a hoped-for ending to this play. How would you envision it? How will we write that resolution as a society?

-Ari Roth


31 thoughts on “October Round-Up IV: THE ARGUMENT Moves From the Rehearsal Room Into Previews

  1. Much like “Detroit,” “The Argument” by Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros had me feeling multiple emotions at the exact same time. I was stressed, anxious, scared, and confused–even now I’m not quite sure what to say of the play and its ending. Aside from that though, the whole story was a tragic, but real, representation of modern day problems. Like Sophie and Phillip, many people–both young and old– enter relationships without the expectation of getting married or starting a family together. For lack of better wording, they’re just enjoying the ride. But what I’m most surprised about with this play was not so much what happened during the performance but what happened afterwards during the Q&A.

    Given the fact that abortion is an extremely controversial and sensitive topic for women and men alike, I expected the Q&A to be somewhat of a screaming match, or at least a divided discussion with one side being pro-women’s rights and the other pro-life. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the discourse didn’t focus on the complexities of the abortion debate. Instead it focused on the gritty and gut-wrenching effects the topic of abortion had on this couple who were so madly in love with each other only a few month before.

    Ari Roth, the artistic director of Theater J, as well as my professor, assigned the audience the task of creating a scene that would follow the last scene of the play. In last night’s performance, the last scene ended with Phillip angrily shaking Sophie, which led to her fainting. Moments later she wakes up and the lights darken. Although I have to participate in this assignment anyway, I feel as though I might as well say what I think is likely to happen here and now.

    Immediately following the last scene, I envision Sophie waking up and attempting to sit up while Phillip apologizes profusely. I then imagine them both breaking down into tears while she attempts to comfort him and his devastation. A few minutes after consoling him, Sophie quietly tells him that she’s moving in with Beth. While staying with Beth, Sophie contemplates on whether or not to keep the baby. After deliberating for 2 or 3 days, she ultimately decides to have an abortion. She tells Phillip via text as she’s on the way to the abortion clinic. While there, she is numb and emotionally drained. When the procedure is finished, she walks out of the clinic and pulls out her phone to see 13 missed calls and 5 texts from Phillip. She then calls him back and tells him the procedure was over. As the silence lingers between them both, she apologizes to him, and he tells her it’s over.

    Although this is a rather grim ending, I can’t help but think it’s fitting given the length of their relationship and their personalities/passions. Perhaps it is best that they met this ending rather than trying to stay with each other for the baby’s sake, which is obviously assuming that Sophie would keep it. Even so, I never saw this story ending with a happily ever after.

    • Hi Dominique – I really liked your ending to play and felt that it was quite fitting. Although I have not thought about it too extensively yet, I was struggling somewhat with what would be the most plausible way for the play to close, and for their relationship to end (something that I assumed was a foregone conclusion). I think that your ending which shows each of them continuing to grapple with the issues of abortion and their relationship as a whole even after the dramatic events with which the play currently ends, was very intriguing. By not ending their relationship right away, it shows the lingering emotions that remain of their once deep relationship, though the latent issues stemming from the argument ultimately do end it. Still, I can’t help feeling that each of them still care for each other and only separate because it was too painful for them to remain together – something that I feel mirrors real life remarkably well.

  2. I greatly enjoyed “The Argument”, from its intimate focus on the many different factors that can combine to create and nurture a relationship, to its in-depth examination of what is an incredibly divisive topic in American politics, abortion. For me, “The Argument” is strongest once it shifts its focus completely to the latter topic, and attempts to convey the manifold different ways that couples can, and do, respond to the sensitive issue. By allowing both Sophie and Phillip the opportunity to completely illustrate their side of the argument, without bias, I feel that the play was strengthened, as in doing so it helped to illuminate the reality that the issue is an extremely complex one, with persons on every side of it feeling that they are absolutely and categorically correct.

    I also found the dynamic that emerged between Sophie and Phillip in the second half of the production to be especially compelling. I thought that this was so because it showed how each responded to the stress and uncertainty of the situation that they were presented with and in doing so created a relationship where each of them still cared for the other greatly, but were completely determined to emerge from the argument victorious, hurting the other in the process if necessary. I found this relationship to be especially true to life, as all too often it seems to me that people are absorbed in something so deeply that they end up hurting those who they care about, those who they claim to be trying to help. After taking a few days to process the play, I also found the ending to be exceptionally well done and feel that by ending the way that it did, with each having hurt the other, but each ostensibly still caring for the other, with their relationship itself now in peril, that “The Argument” was able to achieve a remarkable synthesis of pain and caring, of concern and selfishness, in a word, of the human condition itself.

    • Hey Joe! Great blog post. I think your last line at the end is very interesting. I think that pain, caring, concern and selfishness are all important emotions in the play. As far as selfishness goes, I wonder who you think was being selfish? Also, what does it mean to be selfish? Is it selfish to give your entire life to art like Sophie? Is it selfish to lose your mind and strip away the trust from a relationship like Phillip at the end? Is it selfish to want to change a relationship or to do everything you can to keep it the same? For me, this play was full of opportunities for Sophie and Phillip to talk about their deepest feelings. They could have talked about their aspirations and their fears. They could have communicated to save their relationship. However, I feel they didn’t do that. They didn’t take those opportunities and the beautiful masterpiece, the third entity that they made out of love together suffered. They destroyed their relationship. I think that was selfish.

  3. Great art should make you feel. But this doesn’t mean that great art should only make you laugh or crack a smile or feel good about yourself, it just means that you should feel something in the experience. Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros’ play The Argument was created to evoke reactions, and while most of the time they weren’t positive smile-inducing reactions, the play, for me, evoked reactions that resonated long past the post-show discussion. People came up to me asking how the play was and I mostly made groaning noises and indecisively replied in question, “it was great?” But is “great” the right word? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes, but is “enjoy” the right word? No. I think that’s where this personally tearing feeling is rooted after seeing this play: in the language. Arguments happen because of a lack of dialogue and understanding, which is conveyed through language. They are two one-sided perspectives that clash and fail to meet or even consider meeting halfway, and they often become heated when one side or person says the wrong thing. Arguments are a lot about language and word choice. I think this became most clear during the scene with the therapist when Sophie and Phillip are slinging superlative words at each other in battle (“she always…. he never….”) and attempting to express themselves in clear neutral manners (“I think… I mean I feel”). And while their tongues were twisted and flinging words at each other, I was hiding behind my hands. I’m not eloquent (I am always fumbling over my own words) and I’m not good at facing arguments (I covered my face, peeking out through my fingers sporadically throughout the performance), and what was so great about this play was that it made me face these hardships and then some. I realized how easily words cannot mean what you want them to, and how that can cause already struggling situations to become more feeble than before. Words can break, drain and leave you slumped in your chair, struggling to get up like Sophie and myself at the end of the performance, but they still captivate and caused you to react, just like The Argument did for me.

  4. Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros’ play was emotionally exhausting. As I left the Argument I felt my whole body weighted down from the emotional intensity of the experience. I thought the play was great, though I have to admit there are parts I couldn’t relate to as a 21-year old. I’ve seen what the prospect of an abortion does to relationships through the experiences of my friends but the circumstances of people in their mid twenties who are just beginning to establish their life are so completely different from the circumstances in this story. For my friends it has always been ‘maybe one day, just not yet.’ For Sophie and Phillip it may have been their last chance.

    The thing that struck me the most about the play was the relationship between Sophie and Phillip. At the post-show discussion there was a comment made that said something to the effect of ‘Sophie and Phillip are so obviously perfect for each other.’ Perhaps there is a difference in generations here, and I just don’t know because I’m too young, but I seriously question the idea that they are perfect for each other. I feel like the pitfalls in their relationship are far too great for them to be ‘perfect.’

    These are two people who are already mid-life and they cannot figure out how to communicate with each other to save their own relationship. How is it that the whole time they knew about the pregnancy Phillip didn’t even realize that Sophie wanted an abortion? How is it that Sophie thought that the answer was to keep the baby so that Phillip could raise it without her? They can’t figure out how to tell each other how they feel, let alone hear what the other person is saying. I understand that this particular argument may not have a compromise. I also understand that a good relationship is based on honesty, respect, and most importantly open communication.

    • I also thought it was interesting that someone in the post show discussion said that Sophie and Phillip are “perfect” for each other. In fact, it was alarming that someone thought that. I agree with you that a healthy relationship should be based on honesty, respect, and open communication. Sophie and Phillip’s relationship did not have any of these qualities, which I saw as a red flag that they are not meant for each other. I found that disheartening because they seemed to be so in love at the beginning of the play.
      I also found it hard to comprehend the idea of abortion in regards to an older age group. I too think of abortion in the sense of our generation, with the most common reason for the procedure being that we are still kids and we are not ready to be parents. It was a different experience to see two people who were at a great time in their lives to be parents have this argument.

    • As Katy said also, I had the same response when someone in the discussion said the couple was perfect for each other. Having to navigate pregnancy together was telling of the health of their relationship, and therefore the scene at the end of the play felt also like the end of their relationship–both of them realizing that it would not work between them. Though only 7 years apart in age, a negligible difference when one is already in his or her forty’s, they were at very different points in their lives. Phillip already had “success” as the world might describe it–financially, he was set and he was ready for a family to begin. Sophie, on the other hand, was just beginning to gain momentum in her career, and at times seemed to reflect a desire to be independent even in her relationship with Phillip. Each was his own independent entity within the relationship–their lives moved forward together, but separate at the same time. It was no surprise, then, when no conclusion could be made with regard to the pregnancy for they had not worked together as a team up to that point, and therefore were unable to work as a team through that event.

  5. This semester has been crazy to say the least. With the government shut down, the shootings, and other personal events, there has not been a dull moment. One thing that I have been told by many Washingtonians is that I shouldn’t lose hope in my dreams and my future because of the political gridlock. They say it’s important to keep your hopes and dreams alive, at least for a few more years, because the realities of adulthood make it difficult to have such optimism and passion.
    I think the same concept holds true for love and relationships. During the opening scene of The Argument, I immediately related to the passion Sophie and Phillip felt. They were experiencing total infatuation with each other, like many people feel at the start of a relationship, before you see the other person’s flaws.
    When their “honeymoon” period ends and the fighting begins I no longer related to Sophie and Phillip because in my experience this is where the relationship ends. For me, there has never been a reason to stick around and fight; therefore, it is much easier for me to ignore the idea that people fall out of love.
    The Argument was a window into reality; there isn’t always a happily ever after. I had such a hard time digesting this play because I was so caught up in their love affair. When their love disintegrated, it caused me to lose a lot of hope. It’s just like the political stalemate in our country, there are two people fighting and you know they will never come to an agreement. It was hard for me to realize that arguments are the reality of relationships and that not all of them can be resolved.
    At the end of the play I heard other people saying that when Sophie touched Phillip’s face it was a sign of hope. I interpreted it as Sophie acknowledging that she had created a life around Phillip and that she had loved him at some point, but she didn’t anymore. She was looking at the same face, but there was a different person on the inside. Somehow during the course of the play, the man she fell had disappeared.

    • Katy,

      I agree with you about the last scene where Sophie reaches for Phillips face—I thought it was touching, but it definitely felt like an ending. Like she came to terms with it, and this was her last good look at him. I didn’t feel hopeful, because there didn’t seem to be anything left to rebuild their relationship on.

      I was drawn by how in love they were in the beginning, and I can even relate to when the honeymoon period ends and the other doesn’t seem as perfect, but I can’t relate to the verbal and physical abuse that occurred near the end. The level of disrespect for each other was appalling, even if it was meant out of love. That makes me think though, how does this play relate to “Detroit”? In that play, the couple had nothing left, and had to rebuild their lives from the bottom. They faced new possibilities. It seems like an entirely different circumstance with a romantic situation. When there is nothing left, it’s time to quit, not start over. Or rather, it might be time to start over with someone else who is more right.

    • Katy, the disintegration of Phillip and Sophie’s relationship was also hard for me to digest. I became more and more frustrated because the drama and contention between them seemed to go from 0 to 80 so incredibly quickly. I felt that a solution or compromise could have been reached had there been more communication between the couple, and less anger. At the same time this made their situation more realistic. It is easy to point out fault when you are on the outside looking in. However I am sure we can all point out situations where relationships went completely wrong due to bad communication.

    • Hey Katy 🙂

      I really liked the comparison you made between lovers and government, and I think you’re right in saying that they fell out of love, or at least infatuation, with each other. As a side note, I think your personal views on when to leave a relationship are interesting, but I think that in the context of Sophie and Phillip’s relationship, they did have a small window of opportunity to save their relationship. I don’t think that their type of characters were innately that stubborn and unable to come to a mutually agreeable decision. Meaning, they had it in them to end the arguing in a way that didn’t result in a horrible break up. Perhaps it was the lack of knowledge of each other that did them in, who knows, but I honestly believe they could have worked it out at some point before it got as bad as it did in the end.

  6. Walking into Theater J for “The Argument,” I expected to see an adult conversation between two grown people about the two sides of the abortion debate- to keep the baby, or not to keep it. They would talk about it, argue about it, and eventually both sides would be presented and they would come to a decision. Instead, the play was anything but that, which bothered me for a while afterwards, but I came to appreciate. “The Argument” highlighted the pain and frustration of loving someone but wanting different things, and how stubbornness and a lack of communication can destroy a relationship. Although disagreements occur in any relationship, whether romantic or familial, the extent to which Sophie and Phillip took their dispute frightened me. As someone who has not experienced this particular, life-changing decision, I hope that what happened on stage is not a preview of how my significant other and I would handle the situation. Watching Sophie and Phillip fight, I felt the sinking, alone sensation that occurs during and after a shouting match, which never ends up solving anything. There are tentative times of making up, and brushing the problem under the rug, but unless it is brought back out and discussed calmly, it remains an elephant in the relationship. Sophie and Phillip took it step further with unconsented physical restraints, barrier, and assault, something unimaginable and unacceptable to me in a relationship. After becoming accustomed in my current relationship to talking things out calmly, I can’t imagine a more productive way to solve a problem, especially a problem as big as an unwanted pregnancy. Then again, maybe this is one argument that can’t be solved peacefully. As one audience member stated during the post-show discussion, almost everything in a marriage can be compromised, except having a baby.

    • Anna Li, I can definitely relate to what you mention about your expectation that there would be an argument between both sides on the issue of abortion, but finding that the play incorporates much more than this. I too expected this and prior to seeing the play sort of strapped myself in for what I expected to be political bickering. I too came to appreciate seeing this as not solely a political issue but as a relationship issue. When things like this happen in a relationship, it is not just black and white. It cannot be simplified to have a baby or have an abortion. But rather, there are issues such as deciding if you are made for motherhood, understanding how your life will be altered, and deciding whether this is something that you want badly enough to do alone if necessary. I enjoy that the play delves into finding an answer for these things and depicts abortion with shades of gray.

    • It is frustrating to see the argument between the couple not solving any problems. Part of the reason is that Phillip never articulated his reasons for wanting the baby, and Sophie never explained why she wanted the abortion. This made each side of “argument” unconvincing and ineffective. But how could anyone truly justify the reasons of wanting or not wanting to become a parent. I believe the decision of having a baby mainly rests on the unconditional love one has one’s significant half. As we can see through the play, Sophie does not seem to trust Phillip. She has many doubts and feels insecure (which I don’t blame her for! Not after he tied her up!) She believes that she will take the burden of baby as she is the one that physically bears the baby. She does not believe that Phillip will take care of her and the baby once she agrees on the decision of having the baby. This indicates that there are major flaws in their relationship. Her love for Phillip is calculated and she expects a return for what she does for him. Until Sophie can trust Phillip or until Phillip can show her that she can trust him, there will not be a resolution to this argument.

  7. As a young woman interning for a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages women to run for political positions, I am constantly exposed to advocacy for women’s equality in government and the work place. Seeing The Argument evoked many of those same feelings that I have in my office, as women deserve to have just as strong a voice as men in all areas of society and life. However, The Argument gave me a less popular, although just as important, perspective regarding the topic of abortion. So much of the public discussion surrounding abortion is in regards to women’s reproductive rights. The Argument gives a voice to the father, who seems to be forgotten in many circumstances, including government discussions and media conversations. The issue of abortion is an emotional subject for all of those involved, and the decision will become the main focus of a relationship if the mother and father have opposing opinions. Abortion is a lonely issue for a woman who has been abandoned by the father of their child. The Argument portrays abortion as a lonely issue for the man, too, as the father figure has little control over the decision. During the post-performance discussion, the audience agreed that the relationship between Sophie and Phillip could not be repaired, regardless of the decision made concerning the life of their child. While it is essentially impossible to have a relationship that is argument-free, there are certain arguments that will shake and destroy the foundation of a relationship. A relationship involves much more than love, happiness, and bliss. A couple has to get through the less glamorous aspects as well, including the bills, the dishes, and the dry cleaning. There are other decisions to be made, which will be life altering, like one child, three children, or none. Although Sophie and Phillip could make short-term decisions, like grocery lists, they could not agree on their long-term future together. Their relationship, regardless of the addition of a child, would not have lasted due to their irreconcilable differences and personal beliefs.

  8. It is quite appropriate that during my semester here in D.C. I had the opportunity to view a production entitled “The Argument”. Surprisingly, this production was not about feckless political bittering between Republicans and Democrats. Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros’ work tells the story of Sophie and Phillip, a couple forced to reconcile personal beliefs, career prospects, and moral principles when an unexpected pregnancy rocks their world.

    The topic of abortion may be stale to some, salient to others. Nevertheless, the work treats the issue in a unique and insightful fashion. Central to my takeaways from the production was the treatment of abortion as strictly one of women’s health and reproductive rights. The way this play transpired reminded me of the recently much maligned birth control hearing on Capitol Hill having an all-male panel of witnesses, a complete misunderstanding of the deliberations regarding contraception, abortion, and reproductive rights. I perceived Phillip, who advocated against terminating the pregnancy, as unable to persuasively articulate his argument and resorting to unnerving violence and buffoonery when things didn’t go his way. In the end though, I found these acts to be meaningless as Sophie had already decided to schedule an appointment for an abortion and was decisively more resolute. Phillip and the baby never had a chance even though Gersten-Vassilatros brilliantly ends the play with an open cliffhanger leaving the audience in the dark whether the abortion actually takes place, and hence, making Professor Roth’s task to us students of staging the next scene all the more appropriate (Many participants in the post-show discussion found this superfluous however).

    I feel this production missed an opportunity to make a valuable social commentary on the perceived “career vs. family” dichotomy that many women face. This dichotomy is heightened by a lower American birth rate, an aging population, and the dedication now required to build a remarkable career. The career-minded Sophie is a character with untapped potential in my view. I sympathized with her plight and attempted her attempts to be rational but I wanted to know more about her art and her accompanying rationale for abandoning her baby.

    • Szymon, I enjoyed reading your comment concerning the dichotomy that many women face today, as women are forced to decide between a family and career. Luckily, more and more companies are realizing the important of a work-life balance, yet there is still a long way to go before women are able to truly balance motherhood and a career. Many women are forced to put off having children until later in their lives because the prime time for career growth is throughout an employee’s twenties and thirties. This is also the optimal time to start a family. However, which path should a woman choose? Is it selfish for her to value her career over her family? Is it fiscally irresponsible for a woman to end her career to start a family? This debate will continue for years to come, as gender roles and the familial structure have formed much of our society’s structure. However, for my own sake and many other women, I hope I will have the opportunity, along with every other woman, to find a balance and be able to have a successful career and a beautiful family. There is no reason that I should have to make a choice.

      • Szymon, I too think flushing more into the dichotomy of family and career would have been very interesting. I actually read a piece the other day called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter. The piece, a biopic piece of Slaughter’s experience working for Hillary Clinton and while simultaneously trying to remain very involved with her family and teenage kids. Slaughter ultimately leaves Washington deeming her family more important. However Slaughter’s experience is the experience of many career-driven women. Can women have it all? Can we be CEOs, and hold other high ranking positions while simultaneously being deeply involved in the cultivation of their children? Why must women be the one’s to sacrifice? Perhaps these questions can be answered in one of the scenes that we have to do for our assignment. While I believe I would sacrifice to some point my career for my family, I respect Sophie’s decision not to do so.

  9. Theater J’s The Argument by Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros consists of a multitude of themes including abortion, parenthood, gender roles, and passions, however in my opinion one of the most interesting themes of the play was the willingness of a person to change for another individual, and the varying degrees that they will allow themselves to be altered.

    The first way that we saw this theme displayed was with Sophie in the ways that she matured into the more traditional role of a woman. In fact, this play seemed to test many of the traditional roles of individuals. In the beginning of the play, Sophie mentioned that she could not be found in the kitchen, however after dating Phillip for awhile, there is a scene where she is in the kitchen preparing him pasta, her specialty, while he is talking about his day conducting business on the golf course. This depicts the traditional role of working man and housekeeping woman. It was also interesting that she seemed to take overcooking the pasta so personally.

    In my opinion, it was intriguing that in this same way that she was willing to make this minor change for Phillip, she was not willing to make a major change to have his child. This too addressed a more traditional or typical understanding of abortion as a woman’s choice. Personal beliefs aside, I admire Sophie’s choice to not have the unplanned child. One of my favorite scenes in The Argument is when she is talking about her love of art and her ability to get lost in it. She did not have this same passion for having children and in my opinion, she was not meant to have children as she was meant to be an artist. Countering Sophie’s reluctance was Phillip’s rather intensified desire to have this child. We were also able to see a significant change in this character due to his fight to have the baby. He transformed from a sweet gentleman in the beginning of the play to a rather crazed enthusiast to ultimately a rather abusive controlling boyfriend towards the end. Sophie described him as making her “hate something that I love.”

    I found the transformations quite fascinating in The Argument. As I mentioned during the post-show discussion, I have never been in love, so to see and be able to interpret the changes made by these characters at the hands of someone that they love is intriguing.

    • Hey Khayla, good thoughts. I too noticed how Sophie seemed to embody many traditional gender roles, like cooking for Phillip in the kitchen and listening to his outlandish golf stories. Sophie’s decision to have an abortion, however, flies in the face of every traditional gender or family role. Is it possible that this contributed to Phillip’s anger about the abortion? From what we can observe from Phillip in the play, I am inclined to think so. Perhaps his use of force in tying her down was some sort of hypermasculinized attempt to reassert dominance and control–after all, Phillip seemed more bothered by the fact that he couldn’t get Sophie to agree with him then he was by the fact that he was about to lose a child. I think that the establishment of the gender sterotypes in the beginning of the play served to add some fuel to the fire, and make the resulting conflict and argument even more intense. Also, I hope you fall in love someday ❤

  10. “The Argument” was raw, honest, and (as many other commentators have noted) emotionally draining. It explored the always divisive topic of abortion, and the escalation of an argument into an all-consuming battle of wills and ideologies. ‘The Argument” was passionate and powerful. It was also disappointing.

    Szymon B. and I talked about what we had seen after the play, and we agreed there had been a missed opportunity for a deeper discussion. Phillip, the man who fought for Sophie to keep the baby and go through with the pregnancy, seemed to me more of a bully then a loving father. He yelled, he screamed, he sulked and pouted his way through therapy, and he ultimately resorted to aggression and physical dominance to try and get his way. Worse, however, he was never able to articulate why exactly he wanted Sophie to keep the baby. In fact, he actually apologized for repeating the same things over and over without being able to explain what he truly felt.

    What if we had seen an impassioned plea from Phillip about the sanctity of human life, if this play really wanted to explore the abortion debate. Or what if we had seen a heartfelt explanation from Phillip about his desire to be a father to Sophie’s baby, to an undeniable love or connection to the fetus inside Sophie that would soon develop into a human child? How conflicted might we have felt if we saw Phillip’s love slowing manifest into anger, as each attempt he made to dissuade Sophie fail? I felt, however, that Phillip failed to ever really express love, making his character one-dimensional and just simply abusive. I left the theater thinking “The Argument” made it too easy to tell apart the good guys and the bad guys.

    Obviously, this play is not a total representation of the abortion debate and it is not the responsibility of the playwright to represent every pro-life argument. It is simply the story of Phillip and Sophie, and the argument between them. The lack of understanding between them and their failure to reach any common ground may well have been a conscious decision from the playwright to provide commentary on the state of modern discourse or the exploration of how a seemingly good relationship can be ripped to shreds. Still, it just seemed like the plot consisted of two people yelling back and forth at each other for the last 40 minutes. Fortunately, Professor Roth has given us the assignment of acting out a follow up scene. If my group makes the mistake of letting me write it, perhaps I can give life to the conversations I yearned to see while watching the actual production.

  11. The Argument was hugely successful in stirring deep emotions in its viewers, and yet, as someone pointed out in the post-show discussion, there was something so traditional about the play that it was alarming. The aspects of this play that the woman found traditional are slightly different than I intend to reflect on; that is, the man doing “manly” things like golf while the woman does “womanly” things such as cook dinner or the man being the primary money maker in the relationship. However, what I thought was more significant and traditional was the argument itself. Certainly, the argument was about the future of the baby and the couple as a whole, but did this argument not reflect a nearly every argument that goes on in society? What, then, made this argument particularly enthralling or significant in our lives today?

    I also want to recognize before engaging in this the difference between the responses of the older viewers and the responses of the younger viewers. From the post-show discussion, it seemed that older viewers were more satisfied with the play than the younger viewers. Older viewers voiced more positive general sentiment regarding the performance. Even as I reflect now, I am not sure why this was the case. Was it perhaps their years of living that led them to a greater understanding of this type of argument? I cannot even begin to speculate why their views were so different than those of the younger crowd, but I will admit that this response seemed odd to me. I was expecting that the older crowd would be more generally dissatisfied while the younger crowd would be more understanding and accepting of the conflict and situation—a cohabiting, older couple trying to navigate the journey of abortion— because the conversations and decisions that were made in the play were more reflective of those typically made by younger people.

    Though the play set me on edge emotionally because I felt alarmed for the future of our society if this was a reflection of what life is now, overall, The Argument was a very well done play.

  12. the relationship from inception, and the 10 months(?) that transpired, until the core of the play… we don’t get to see??? what i say is that this was definitely not a good or healthy relationship, much less were the characters “perfect” or “good” or “meant” for each other as one audience member assuredly stated. far from it.

    the acting was very good, and i imagine especially draining for the female actor. although i am pretty sure the male actor did not enjoy and/or became frustrated by some of the things he had to say or do. btw, if going for a real graphic ‘tie up’ it could have looked a bit more realistic and tighter, (or maybe throw in some handcuffs, or rope, whatever is lying around the apartment) though i imagine the actors would have to work harder to get the sheets off. or maybe (hopefully) he wanted her to escape, but just ‘think about’ her action (as if she hadn’t) the refridgerater incident, again, could have been symbolic… i guess?

    perhaps i was disappointed with the script. the golf story… why she let him go so-so-so long, and the audience had to endure the prattle, unless to see his own stupidity and silly priorities, is beyond me. the self-defeating ‘overdone pasta’ thrown in the sink to a woman who otherwise stood her ground seemed ironic, to say the least. at least for me.

    the man is entitled to his opinion, that’s about it. not physical and emotional abuse. i hope most men do not behave this way, especially in the US in 2013. it almost makes him out to be a monster-ish charicature, maybe symbolic of… something? maybe a ‘man-hating’ narrative or comment? the last 30 minutes were anything but subtle, and those audience members who felt conflicted or sympathetic toward a misogynist, i feel sorry for them, frankly. but at least the play got them thinking. of course, this is just my narrow elitist feminism rearing its ugly head.

    great post-play discussion and dialouging. and the blog is another forum to share and joust. or vent.

  13. The Argument was such a wonderful show. I appreciated watching a play about a romantic relationship. Relationships are such a central part of all of our lives so many of the themes from the Argument resonated with me. In the post play discussion we briefly discussed character likeability. This was a concept that was very important to me. My ability to connect with Phillip really contributed to my enjoyment of the play, and also influenced my dislike for Sophie. I was unable to relate to her. I felt as though she could have easily communicated her fears about becoming a mother in her 40’s once she discovered her pregnancy. I don’t think it is bad at all that Phillip wanted to have a child with the woman he loved. I think Sophie perhaps over estimated Phillip’s emotional intelligence- as though he should innately know all of her fears. As women we often expect men to understand exactly what we are feeling and experiencing, and fault them when they don’t meet our expectations. Phillip did not strike me as utterly insensitive. Sophie could have communicated better with Phillip and might have found a more empathetic response from him. I am not invalidating the legitimacy of women’s rights to abortion and privacy in any way, and I think Sophie’s concerns are both valid and understandable. Notwithstanding, much of the contention was caused by Sophie and Phillip’s poor communication. I became frustrated with Sophie’s anger and she began to seem irrational. Despite my Sophie’s lack of likeability, I thought both actors were amazing and so realistic. They reflect the flaws that so many of us exhibit in relationships- a great way to learn how to be a better partner!

  14. “The Argument” by Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, is the best play I’ve seen so far since being in the Theater of Politics class. The actors were passionate, believable, and captivating. The story line though unorthodox was raw, leaving me at the edge of my seat the entire time -especially with the cliff hanger ending, that left ends untied. I’d read a little background about the play before I saw it so I wasn’t shocked when the controversial issue of abortion came up in the story. I was however, surprised at how the issue unfolded. It was interesting to me that Phillip was so against Sophie getting an abortion -when I read the description of the play which mentioned an abortion, I assumed it was Phillip who wanted it. It was interesting to see how adamant Phillip was about Sophie going through with the pregnancy. The lengths of desperation that Phillip went through to keep Sophie from leaving were humorous…at first, until he goes through physical measures. While I could sense Phillip’s passion, I respected Sophie’s right to choice. As a woman over 35 years old Sophie, the chances that the baby would be born with disabilities was heightened -as Sophie explained to Phillip. Furthermore, Sophie claimed she never wanted children. I didn’t appreciate that Phillip was attempting to force Sophie to do something that she obviously did not want to do, especially something so life altering. From some of the comments I’ve heard, it appears that people sympathized with Phillip because he wanted the baby, but I think attention needs to be paid to how Phillip’s wants were also undermining Sophie’s liberty and autonomy. I wondered how reactions to the play would have been if Phillip was instead forcing Sophie to have an abortion? Either way compromising Sophie’s right to choice. While obviously having a baby should be agreed upon by both parties, I also believe that the woman should make the ultimate decision.

    • I also loved this play for the passion and its’ captivating performance. I think a lot of people liked Phillip because he was a man who desperately wanted a baby. He wanted the simple family life that many people aspire to acquire I think some were uncomfortable with Sophie possibly taking that dream away from him. But Sophie had some real life threatening decisions to make that I think Phillip ignored or did not consider fully.
      The therapy scene spoke about how to effectively communicate with one another as a way to get to the core issues the couple faced. However the core issues came out at the end of the play during the scene when the refrigerator blocked the door, physically stopping Sophie from getting the abortion. The issue of health and never wanting a baby came together for Sophie.

  15. gFrankly, I’ve been struggling to write the response for several days now. Even now I’m not entirely sure what to make of the ending, much less how I truly feel about what I witnessed. At the end of the play, Ari asked the audience: “So, what do you think, is this just another play about abortion?”

    What a strange question. Just another play about abortion? Abortion is such an incredibly heated issue and is something that many couples find themselves, in some cases momentarily, grappling with whether they are ready to not only bring life into the world but care for it totally. Several years ago, I read a book on evolutionary psychology in which the author asserted that the basis of these arguments is inherently moral. By which he means that when one strips all of the logical, well formulated arguments from someone arguing for (or against) abortion they will still feel very much the same way. Our arguments are ultimately driven by our emotions, not by logic. In some ways, this very much manifested itself in the well-titled play; however, I struggle with the notion that they handled the argument well, or that the couple was “meant for each other” as one audience member commented.

    Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros did a wonderful job illustrating the intensity of such a decision, and perhaps that intensity was magnified given the age of the couple– certainly, for the man, I could see how this might feel like his last chance to become a father and certainly, for the woman, I could understand how her resolve may have grown throughout the years. Regardless of how well the play was written, I found myself taken aback by what I viewed to be an incredibly dysfunctional and immature handling of the situation. That is escalated that far and that some view this as the “reality” of relationships today makes me uncomfortable. I have watched twenty-somethings handle this situation in a much calmer and supportive manner. Again, one must wonder if this is partly due to their feeling that they have another chance, another future, during which they could have a child if they so chose; however, I struggled with their inability to communicate with each other, or to fully articulate the desperation they felt in a healthy manner. Yet, in some ways, perhaps this highlights all of our weakenesses.
    In heated and unexpected situations, especially those that revolve around such a moral notion, we should perhaps take a step back, acknowledge our partner and give them a chance to fully speak out rather than acting on our own as both Sophie did when she scheduled an appointment without fully speaking with Philipp on her decision and allowing him the chance to articulate his feelings beforehand. Philipp was also guity of this, however, and it manifested through sulking throughout the entirety of a therapy session and, more disturbingly, through physical restraint.

  16. The Argument, written by Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, was emotionally gripping and insightful. The playwright and the Shirley Gerotsky, the Associate Artistic Director for Theater J, made sure to sync you with both characters. Sophie, played by Susan Rome and Phillip, played by James Whalen shared an incredible romance on the stage. It was so real, it made it seem as if they have or were actually dating. Sophie has this amazing artistic energy while Phillip is business oriented. Both in their 40’s, however Phillip is 7 years older than Sophie when they first meet. They are attractive and seeking or yearning for intimacy. Intimacy and love by someone who believes in long lasting partnership. A marriage of souls is what the audience witnesses, and then a burning wedge of insecurity and indecisive choices come between them.
    To some people the idea of pregnancy is a fantasy starting from childhood. Joyous questions like, what name will my baby be? Will it be a girl or boy? Are commonly asked by aspiring parents. These are questions that could have probably been Phillip’s. I think Sophie would have been asking questions like, am I too old to birth a kid? will this fetus come out healthy? Could I sacrifice my freedoms for someone else?
    The obvious difference here is Sophie who questions the simple fantasy of parenthood while Phillip is ecstatic to become a father. After loosing his own father and not having any children of his own, Phillip shows a vulnerable side of himself now at 50 years old that he wants to leave a legacy. A legacy bound by DNA. He views the baby as a miracle and another opportunity to obtain his perfect fantasy with both Sophie and daughter.
    Sophie sees her beautiful art as her legacy. She feels a spiritual calling and connections to art, for she understands to overall importance art gives to the world. If she were pregnant she would give some of that up for the baby—a sacrifice and decision not wanted. She also looks at the practicality of the entire situation. The health risks of having a baby at 43 years old is quite scary for a women and it should be scary for the man. Quite the conundrum when Phillips wants the child but Sophie refuses.

  17. I really enjoyed the play “Argument.” It was a fast paced and intense performance and the play reflected many realities of life. The couple started out in a very passionate and romantic relationship in the beginning. But as time went by and passion faded, cracks of their relationship began to develop. For example, as the couple made the shopping list together, it seemed like they were both trying to impress and compete with each other by coming up with the most exotic and quaint items they could think of. It was comical to see that it took the couple listing 8 different types of foreign cheese to establish how educated and cultured they are. We can also sense from listening to their conversation that they are not interested in what the other has to say. For example, when Phillip talked about his golf adventures at the dining table, Sophie was not interested. We could even sense that she was disgusted by his insensitivity of the subject. On the other hand, Phillip showed little interest in Sophie’s art and was not afraid to express his disregard as he picked up her painting and told her that art is not going to get her anywhere.

    These issues are common and are reflective of any relationship. I am not saying that two people have to be perfect for each other for a relationship to work. It is normal for couples to have different interests, argue on things and inadvertently put each other down. Couples can and should find a compromise in these issues. But what happens when couples like Phillip and Sophie face issues where there are no middle grounds? Such as abortion? We see a total destruction of their relationship. The play started to feel more and more surreal as Phillip moved the fridge to block the door and tied Sophie up in order to prevent her from getting out. It was a strangely comical scene as we laugh at the absurdities of Phillip’s actions but at the same time, we worry about their relationship.

    • Amie,

      Your comments enlighten two ideas from the production I had yet to consider. Arguments are certainly a part of very healthy and even more so unhealthy relationships but an argument about abortion retains a unique singularity. The crux of the argument holds no possible compromise and the conversation is often framed in moralistic terms. So how are two young people at odds with their conception of career, family, and lifestyle supposed to handle such a matter? I hold the belief that this is a tough situation to resole, but nonetheless, the couple in this play did not afford the problem the thoughtful consideration it merits.

      This leads me to my second comment. You mention the conversation between the couple about the grocery list and Phillip’s golf outing. I felt that this type of expository dialogue that was to facilitate the development of the characters and reveal their flaws was petty and decelerated the otherwise fast-paced angst the couple had to deal with. Simply put, I could have deciphered Phillip’s misguided priorities and feeble-mindedness with how he engaged his partner on the abortion argument.

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