Week 9: Yvette Nolan’s The Unplugging

during a rehearsal of The Unplugging at Factory Theatre
EN-FACTORY17 TORONTO, ON-MARCH 17 – Diana Belshaw and Allegra Fulton on stage during a rehearsal of The Unplugging at Factory Theatre in Toronto, March 17, 2015. Marta Iwanek/Toronto Star

10 thoughts on “Week 9: Yvette Nolan’s The Unplugging

  1. I read this play and I think about two things: casual sex and the necessity of moving on. Casual sex with another person simply isn’t. There are countless studies and reports on the subject, but even when a couple is young and used to pretending nothing happened, the unavoidable truth of the matter is ever present, no matter how good they are at hiding it. I once heard an NPR article on the matter and how many one night encounters these days are like meeting someone on a plane: you meet and have a relationship for a few hours tops then move on with the rest of your lives, sometimes wishing something would happen, sometimes not. There is a trust or bond that forms between the two parties. “The Crucible” comes to mind.
    The necessity of moving on comes into play specifically in Seamus’ last line, however it rings throughout. The women often have a hard time forgiving or letting go of their pasts: holding grudges, wishing for this to be the way they were, remembering the good old days, etc. But Seamus is the one who makes concrete efforts to forgo the issues and grievances in order to instate a new peace or status quo. Sometimes, letting go of the past can create positive outcomes. It just may take time, trust, or luck (or all three) to reach that point.


  2. This works interests me in terms of what it includes onstage and what it does not include. Moments of teaching, of following, of leaving, of killing, of making love…these are all left out of the story. I suppose they could be done in the inter-month-ludes, but it seems interesting choices, what to include and what is left to the imaginary’s time.

    There is also the element of creating a world, and sculpting time. How much has passes, how has that time felt, what is happening now…Time in this case seems to have a weight, a smell, a viscosity. How do characters fit in or not fit into their time? Are they people who belong in our world, or their world? To the past or the present?

    Of course, I can’t think of the passing of time, or of a post-electric apocalypse without considering space, and how time transforms space. And how it transforms the mind. Who is Laird and how does the town’s growing unrest and eventual rebellion manifest? Like an infection, time takes its toll on many things.

    A lot is left out of this story, so I find myself traveling through time and filling in gaps. I find myself soaring through space and creating narratives. In many ways, is the real story happening offstage? What is the importance of realizing that we are only ever experiencing a mere fraction of the world’s story? There is so much story happening all the time, all around us. This includes the stories of loved ones…and of course the passing of the seasons and nature’s course.


  3. The Unplugging is my favorite piece so far. There’s something slightly amusing about two middle-aged women thriving after the technological apocalypse. Nolan addresses the epistemological question of what our skills are worth in which circumstances, or rather, whether we know anything at all. The community’s inability to catch and plant food in the state of nature in The Unplugging asks the audience to rethink the idea of civilization and community. Human connection in a technologically advanced world is somewhat of a luxury, whereas in this “benign” post apocalyptic landscape it’s the only means of survival. It’s not entirely unexpected that the youthful Seamus, whose name appropriately means ‘to replace’, relinquishes himself to the older wiser women. A young man who most likely could unlock an Iphone in a millisecond is unable to feed himself without Grubhub and the aid of his newfound friends. Modernity requires that the young and fast bury the old and slow, but this world emphasizes the need to learn from sages of old. So much of our collective knowledge is stored in hard drives that we forget to use the part of our brain that rescued us from the jaws of the primitive past and plastered us to the overcharged screens of the future.


  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Unplugging” for this week’s discussion. This play is well thought out, well-written, and examines contemporary, post-apocalyptic realism with through a Native People lens. Reading this story, keeping the latter in mind, I couldn’t help thinking of revenge tales, specifically Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards” and “Django Unchained.” This is not to say that this play is anything like a Quentin Tarantino movie, or even that it’s a tale based on revenge; if anything, this play is about forgiveness, generosity, and being the bigger person. However, I found it really interesting that in this play, when shit hits the fan and the world comes to terms with it’s dependency on technology, it is two native women, the outcasts of society (literally) that use their knowledge of the land to survive. It’s refreshing that this play reclaims authority and worth of native women, who have been traditionally used and cast out in contemporary American society. It’s a positive, inspiring take of a revenge tale – the downtrodden rise above the oppressors, and, rather than become tyrants, they become leaders, and reclaim their place in society and on the land that was once theirs.


  5. One thing that really impacted my reading of this was one tiny simple line at the beginning of the piece. “ can we google it” , which was obviously mentioned as a joke. But it clicked something for me in my head. That progression as I know it or as I believe other members of our society knows it equates progression or success of time. That is to mean, that with each year of stronger more innovative technology we create the illusion that we are reaching a further progression of the human condition, and that society as a whole is progressing to something greater. However if that progression causes at one point all technology to fault then what then replaces technology a marker for a progression in a society. If we equate apocalypse to “being pushed back to the stone age” then is time still progression? Has time in our society equated progression ?


  6. One thing that interested me about the “Unplugging” is the way an apocalypse opens the possibility for a reinvention of civilization, for “new possible futures.” The problems “the community” dealt with—sickness, starvation, and power struggles—reminded me of the issues faced by the early American colonies. The community’s dependence on Elena and Bern reminded me of the way colonists both tried to learn from Native peoples and ultimately oppressed them. At the end of the play, I feel optimistic that “the unplugging” has led to an opportunity to change “the thing we were bemoaning before the lights went out,” to rewrite history from the beginning [of the Columbian era]. Seamus’ last line—“I want to remember everything”—speaks to me with a double meaning: he wants to remember a moment of reconciliation, but I also see an imperative in that line to remember all of the history that has led to that moment.
    –Jack Dwyer


  7. I enjoyed reading The Unplugging. It is my favorite of the plays and selections we have read for this course. I think this is due to the fully realized, three-dimensional characters and the relationships formed between them. The introduction of Seamus sealed my investment in the story and the fates of the two women. Through the compelling story Nolan created I was also able to learn about a culture different from my own. I personally find this approach to political/cultural theatre much more successful than the other approaches we have seen throughout the semester. It was because of the story and the characters that I began thinking about the role technology plays in our own present society. Nolan’s story also made me think about the stereotypes and judgement put on age and how we see, respect and treat the elderly. This is also one of the first plays we have read this semester that doesn’t utilize violence and sexuality to an almost shocking degree. Because of this I wasn’t pushed away, but pulled in. I appreciated the ending and was glad I went along on Nolan’s journey.


  8. I think its interesting that these characters Bern and Elena have created a system that created before all of the expanse and gain of the world that we live into. They are starting back at square 1, being nomadic and relying on scavenging to ensure survival. I mean, the play reminds me soo much of The Book of Eli, and I can’t help but think what the world will be WHEN it destructs because of MAN. It’s very displacing.


  9. The simplicity and humor of the dialogue immediately hooked me into Nolan’s play. I could sense the humanity in Bern and Elena without the poetic or technological frills called for by our previous readings. And of course, the use of technology would not necessarily aid in the telling of this story about a post-electric world, and the plight of two aging Indigenous women in it. The main thought this play left me with was the idea of representation in art and how culture runs much deeper than labels and categorizations. This play, which brings two Native American women to the forefront, grapples with the tragedy of them being banished from their own community. Cultural specificity in art requires experience with the customs and practices of a specific people, and I feel this play demands Native American voices to tell it. I read an article online about two white women cast in the roles of Bern and Elena. The excuse, of course, was that the production team couldn’t find the right actors to play the parts. Is who tells the story more important than whether or not the story is told at all? To the production that hired white women to play these parts I say: try harder. However, this question will remain with me as I encounter works from writers that feature culturally-specific voices.


  10. In the Unplugging I am drawn to the idea of transformation through disaster.

    How are we permanently altered by the events around us? There are studies that point to trauma being passed down through the gene pool. When our worlds collapse, we are forced to reorient ourselves. Who we come out on the other end can be quite interesting. This play asks us to consider how the trauma we perpetrate or the trauma that has been perpetrated upon us affects who we are. The women in this play have to push through impossible circumstance. How does disaster affect how people and cultures grow?

    What happens when we turn a blind eye to the apocalypse?


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