Time: A little before now
Place: Atlantic City, NJ
Iris Malloy, a single mother of 2 young children trying to make ends meet, is working a catering job when she catches the eye of Colorado Senator Robert Aarons while he is making a speech at a fundraising event in Atlantic City, NJ. Aarons, who is a serious contender for a run at the Presidency, invites her up to his hotel room. She agrees and is there for several hours while her always-reliable sister Cyd is home with Iris’ kids.
Meanwhile, Sticker, an amateur opportunist following his brother’s instructions, captures a video of Iris leaving the Senator’s hotel room and convinces her to take full advantage of the media blitz and the money to be made from the scandal. Cyd, initially skeptical, and Iris begin to hope and plan for a better life for Iris’ kids and for themselves. As the media “stampede” ramps up, we learn that Iris and Aarons had a truly meaningful evening of genuine human connection.
Iris’ night with the Senator reignites her fundamental desires for more than a “just-getting-by life.” But the drive for her “jackpot” leads her towards a path of startling adversity and a place of no return.
Iris Malloy – 30s; single mother of 2 boys, age 9 and 4; works 2 jobs; wants more out of life; feels ineffective and inadequate until one extraordinary night
Senator Robert Aarons – 60s; Senator of Colorado; was in the Navy and was a POW for 10 days; father of 2 grown children – a daughter and a son; considering a bid for the Presidency; proud yet vulnerable.
Cydney “Cyd” Malloy – 30s, Iris’ older sister; reliable and always available to help when needed; a realist
Sticker – mid/late 30s; eager opportunist looking to make a quick buck; “everything about him yelps ‘middle management’”
George Vazzer – mid/late 30s, Aarons’ loyal and trusted aide; stern, direct
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Zak Berkman is a playwright, director, dramaturg, and producer. He joined People’s Light as Associate Artistic Director in September, 2011, and became Producing Director in 2013. Previously, he was co-founder and Executive Director of Artistic Programming with Epic Theatre Ensemble, an OBIE, Drama League, and Lucille Lortel Award-winning artist-run company in New York City. During his ten years of leadership, Epic gained a distinguished reputation for developing new work and cultivating diverse, new audiences. The company’s numerous Off-Broadway premieres include Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play, No Child... by Nilaja Sun, Palace of the End by Judith Thompson, and Hannah and Martin by Kate Fodor. Epic also produced the widely-acclaimed New York revival of JB Priestley’s Time and the Conways. His own plays include Beauty on the Vine, A Breath Short of Breathing, and The Harassment of Iris Malloy. Beauty on the Vine has been produced in New York and Chicago, published by Dramatist Play Service, and optioned by Dirty Rice Pictures to be turned into a film. Zak also co-adapted Antigone and The Visit for Epic's nationally-recognized Arts-In-Education residencies that include the Coming Up Taller Award-winning Shakespeare Remix. Berkman is a former script writer for NBC's Days of our Lives. He is a married to Teri Lamm and they have two boys, Eliot and Theo.
New plays often have lengthy and unique evolutions. Here are some of the highlights from the development of The Harassment of Iris Malloy.
Origin story by Playwright Zak Berkman:
My wife and I have two sons and I began writing the play as we entered the parent-world of Bloomfield, New Jersey, which was painful and enlightening. It spurred me to think a lot about the expectations we place on ourselves as parents -- how these expectations emerge from and are shaped by dynamics that are external and internal, personal and political. How especially restrictive/oppressive this is for women and how society doesn't applaud women who act on the same kind of self-protection impulses that men are granted daily. This all then collided with seeing an old Larry King interview with Paula Jones, who transformed her life after the Clinton scandal -- whose "winning" came in the form of moving to California, cosmetic surgery, and a seemingly more stable domestic life -- and the anti-fable of the senator and the cocktail waitress, the privileged and the self-harassed, was born.
2009: Epic Theatre Ensemble workshops 1st draft of the play at Classic Stage Company: cast includes Maggie Siff and Cotter Smith
2010: Manhattan Theater Club and Epic Theatre Ensemble host public reading of the 2nd Draft of the play: cast includes Maggie Siff and Kevin Kilner
2012: People’s Light hosts Hatchling reading of 3rd Draft of play: cast includes Teri Lamm, Peter DeLaurier, Juliette Pryor, and Pete Pryor
2012: Play is named a finalist for The National New Play Network’s Smith Prize (winner was “Grounded” by George Brant)
2013: The Lark Theatre hosts “Roundtable” workshop (cast includes Maggie Siff and David Strathairn) where significant changes are made to script regarding the sisters’ backstory and the role of “Sticker” – this leads to 4th draft
2014: The Public Theatre presents a developmental reading of the play: cast includes Maggie Siff and David Strathairn; questions about the ending of the play spur me to rethink how Iris’ decisions are rooted in the Senator’s backstory
2014: NEXT Theatre Ensemble in Chicago hosts developmental reading
2014: People’s Light decides to produce the play as part of 2015-16 Season
2015: People’s Light hosts private reading with Julianna Zinkel, David Strathairn, Teri Lamm, and Pete Pryor during run of The Cherry Orchard; this allows me to fine tune some questions about class and privilege in the script
2015: The Lark Theatre hosts a developmental reading of the play: cast includes Julianna Zinkel and Michael Gaston; major changes are made focusing on the areas of attraction, vulnerability, and conflict between Iris and the Senator
2016: The Alley Theatre presents a staged reading as part of First Annual Alley All New Festival; substantial changes are made that focus on the shifts of status between characters and elevate how the Senator’s in-the-moment decision making spur Iris to reevaluate her own life
2016: People’s Light produces the World Premiere
*Lisa Rothe directed all readings except the ones at The Alley, Next Theatre, and the private one during The Cherry Orchard
**Liz Frankel attended the 2010 reading of Iris and started to champion it, bringing it to The Public and The Alley Theatre
Future: The play will be produced by The Detroit Public Theatre in Spring 2017
THE EXIGENCY OF MOTHERHOOD
Resident Dramaturg Gina Pisasale posed to following question to mothers among the People’ Light staff and artistic company:
The play raises many important questions, one of which is about the expectations placed upon parents today, and the difference of expectations for mothers vs. fathers. What have been your experience(s) with these expectations? And how have you dealt with them?
MOTHER OF AN 8 AND 11 YEAR OLD:
I've been mulling over a version of these questions ever since becoming a mother when I felt the cultural, economic and personal expectations of mothering land squarely on my person. Expectations: That you protect your children from bullies on the bus, industrial food like substances, high fructose corn syrup, “bad” decisions regarding antibiotics, etc. That you position them for the best education and enrichment experiences such as play dates, sports, robotics, cupcakes, nature activities, spiritual activities, cultural activities, etc. That you are an unlicensed psychotherapist to guide your child through the increasingly complex world. And for crying out loud that you try to be happy or at least appear balanced while you attempt to manage these expectations so that you are a good role model.
So many of those demon voices of expectation that haunt me and most parents I know are, I think, culturally enforced to incentivize a type of child rearing that will produce the kind of citizens who in adulthood will contribute to the economic engine. Parents who raise healthy successful children create an especially important public good. But our laws and business practices disregard the work it takes to raise a family. For example: inflexible work hours, that time spent in child care tracks as zero when calculating social security benefits, and other social policies that do not define unpaid care of dependents as work. And we as a society don't seem able or willing to talk about how to rebalance that equation.
MOTHER OF A 4 YEAR OLD:
Honestly, my mind starts reeling so quickly when I think of attempting to fully answer this question. As a mother of one child, with a husband who provides most all of our income, I know that I am considered a very privileged parent. Yet and still, the immense amount of guilt that comes from all parts of our society regarding that position, is very alive and present in my daily life. It is so difficult to feel fully accomplished as a mother and a human being in our society. The expectation of perfection at every turn is what really digs deep for me. We must look perfect, feel great, be fantastic role models, college graduates, career driven, sex kittens, experts chefs, wine connoisseurs, kid psychologists, self aware, etc...all while pursuing a fully realized, fulfilled life. After all, it is best for the children if we are presenting our best selves. And the distain, pity and judgement that is placed onto single mothers is despicable. They are simultaneously viewed as heroes and failing members of society. I think we can do better. I hope we can. I hope this play starts conversations and we continue to investigate this notion. I love being a mother. I love hearing about the experience others have of being a mother. And I am so happy to be doing this play, right now, talking about all of it.
MOTHER OF A 3 ½ AND 1 ½ YEAR OLD:
Ok so here’s my answer!
I believe that as a woman I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Sometimes I feel bad that I cannot be with my kids the whole time but then I feel like a gap in my work history – because I stayed at home with my kids – could mean I don’t get the job. You want to be there for your kids but you also need to contribute to the family financially, and it is a balancing act. In my situation, I had to put my career on hold for child rearing because my husband makes a higher income. Since he works shift work, I am with the kids the most and my schedule has to be the flexible one. It is a lot of stress and I feel like I am going 90 miles an hour every day. You just try to do the best you can and hope your kids just turn out normal!
MOTHER OF A 5 YEAR OLD:
Okay, so I've been thinking about this, and here's what I've got:
Virtually all of the messages of what make a "good mother" indicate that selflessness and unconditional love are requisite. I have to be okay with not being a "good mother" because sometimes I feel selfish, and sometimes he's a jerk. A "good mother" wouldn't say that. A "good mother" wouldn't even think it. Don't get me wrong - I love N very much and he is part of the joy of my life. But he isn't all of it, and I am not merely "N's mom.” I have been to so many parties where none of the moms even tried to start a conversation about anything other than their children or even tell you their name. The dads at these same parties introduce themselves by name, ask what people do, and talk about all sorts of things that aren't the children. I don't feel that men are expected to subsume their personalities, desires, or dreams to become "good dads". Of course, the flip side is that fathers aren't expected to be capable or competent. I call bullsh*t.
Okay. I am just going to write stream of consciousness…
When E was a baby, I was very blessed to be able to bring him to work with me. When he got older and had to stay home, I began to feel very torn. I often had to work late and was not home when he went to bed. As a woman, I do think that I felt more guilt. That there was more of an expectation for me to be him with him than there was for his father to be home.
Recently, I changed a lot of things so that I can pick him up from school most days and spend evenings with him. But priorities are a struggle. Just yesterday I agreed to a meeting when I had scheduled to pick up E from school and I have been feeling incredible guilt since. But I know if I said no, I would feel guilty for that decision as well. Doing your best to balance how to raise a good human, keep food on the table, build a career and feed your soul so that you can actually nurture your children – it is so hard. But the truth is – I would not be happy being a stay at home mom. (Nor is that an option for me financially) So, the guilt stays. You learn to live with it, I guess, and you just keep telling yourself you are doing the best you can.
MOTHER OF A 3 AND 5 YEAR OLD
Why was this so hard?! I dunno if there’s anything useful in here, but that’s what came out…
I far prefer heaping obnoxiously overwhelming expectations on myself preemptively than being vulnerable to the imposed expectations of society. When I was pregnant with my second son, I was invited to create and teach a new graduate level class. My son was due to arrive mid-semester. I was inexplicably determined to make this class work, to put a major life move into play, and to prove to myself that I would not let my gender or “temporary condition” hamper opportunity in my life (a debt of gratitude to those who hired me, and did not doubt me). When fella came, I took off a day of class, then resumed our full schedule the following session. My husband and I devised a strategy that involved him circling the block until feeding time, when we’d take our break. (Please note the significance of a fella who knew the importance of this to me, and helped to make it possible. We can discuss the gender roles and expectations of a man with a screaming (hungry) baby, running across a college campus another time.) So, yes, self-expectations are perpetually unreasonable, bordering unrealistic (and yet…). Which brings me to the other side of the spectrum – suggested limitations by others. The most mad-making of all can be assumptions about what I cannot or should not do. Don’t get me started. That’s for another time, too.
MOTHER OF AN 11 AND 14 YEAR OLD
Being a mother so far (14 years) has been both the most challenging but also rewarding thing in terms of my own maturity and general sense of being part of something greater in the world. While my particular journey with my children through divorce has been specific, the core needs of kids from their mother – a sense of safety, consistency, and recognition that we “get” them like no one else can – remains. I spend a lot of time away from my boys because of our particular situation. I have a longing to see them and joy of reunion maybe more often than others do, but I also feel a lot of pressure in the time I am with them to do the “right” thing all the time – discipline them properly, offer words of wisdom, etc. So the time is compressed, in a way that I think many dads in traditional families of the past probably felt.
As a working mother who does not volunteer in their schools as much as some other moms do, I feel guilt that I am not connecting with their teachers and helping as much as I would like, but I also have a lot of faith in the “village” that is supporting my kids. I feel resentful sometimes about today’s expectations of volunteerism when in my mother’s day, I don’t believe there was this much pressure. My mother worked, and she did what she needed to do to get us to school and everywhere else, but there was not the expectation of “super-mom” that I think exists today.
When people hear that my 11 year-old is at boarding school, many people are shocked and look at me like I must be distraught. But I don’t feel distraught. I know it is right for him. If people were in my shoes, they might understand my choice better. Everyone’s situation is different, and there’s no cookie-cutter perfection out there, really. If I didn’t know that 20 years ago, I sure do now.