Katie Forgette gives us a closer look at Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help — a comedy about family, faith and saving face. The O’Sheas are just like any other family in town: middle-class, Irish, Catholic and determined not to offend the priest or the parish. It’s 1973, and public ridicule in their community is the ultimate nightmare, according to 19-year-old Linda O’Shea. With dry yet affectionate humor, she narrates the most turbulent day of her life when a series of mishaps jeopardizes the family’s reputation.
Why do you feel nostalgia, the 1970s in this instance, has the power to connect with an audience, particularly in terms of narrative?
For people of a certain age, taking a look back at the 1970s can remind us of all the changes we've lived through regarding how we communicate with each other. The little sights, sounds and behaviors that were once a part of our daily lives that somewhere along the line disappeared. A busy signal. The clacking of typewriter keys. Waiting for the mail. Answering the phone without knowing who's calling. But a big part of nostalgia also involves the fallibility of memory — and that's what really fascinates me. How two people can remember the same event so differently. Especially family members. Our protagonist, Linda O'Shea, talks about the plasticity of memories, how they change over time with each recollection, to the point where, even when it comes to your own life, you may be considered an unreliable narrator.
What were some of your chief aims in creating this particular Irish-Catholic family? Is this in any way autobiographical?
I was raised Catholic and attended parochial school for 12 years, so there are definitely similarities. My father was a cab driver who worked seven days a week. My mother had many jobs over the years. She sold Avon, real estate and worked for the phone company. She operated a small daycare business out of our home in addition to looking after my grandmother who lived with us for many years after suffering a stroke. My mother did all of this after giving birth to 10 children. The play's main story is invented. I was still in grade school in the early ‘70s, so I'm closer in age to Becky, and like Becky, I was unbelievably naive and more than a little odd. I think a generous person might have referred to me as "charmingly stunted."
Were you ever concerned about placing the “birds and the bees” conversation as the play's catalyst, or did you immediately know it would provide creative opportunities to resonate throughout?
I was concerned to a certain extent but the conversation that Linda has with Becky has to be inappropriate enough to induce apoplexy in Father Lovett. I think one of the reasons the conversation is so shocking is because it is between two young females, and in the ‘70s (and some might even say today), there were still hard and fast rules about ladylike behavior. There were things you didn't talk about because those things were unseemly or shrouded in mystery with a high "ick" factor (female puberty). That said, this isn't David Mamet territory by a long shot. Linda simply uses some colorful imagery to tell her sister about the birds and the bees. It's the truth — but it's a truth that is fueled by the bitterness of a broken heart.
In many respects, the women at the center of the play are survivors. Was there a particular message you wanted to send by crafting the play in this manner?
I grew up in a Catholic family, and one thing that I witnessed that has always stayed with me is the dedication, hard work and unflagging volunteerism of the mothers and fathers of the parish — particularly the mothers. In my day, the moms did the heavy lifting: tutoring, bake sales, Catholic Childhood Association, festivals, bazaars, fundraisers, caring for the sick, emergency daycare. The organization, set-up and clean-up for every celebration under the sun from baptism to death was handled by the ladies of the parish. And if a surprise pregnancy or scandal popped up, they handled that, too. Sometimes while balancing a baby on one hip and a bag of groceries on the other.
To learn more about Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, visit our production detail page .