Writer Jen Silverman is obsessed with character and all of its manifestations in her work. “I am only interested in plot in so much as it illustrates how far a character is willing to go to get what they want. I am also really interested in families and the ways we are seen and not seen,” she said.
All these themes – along with a lot of good music – are present in her play All the Roads Home, part of Long Wharf Theatre’s Contemporary American Voices Festival, running from October 20-22.
All the Roads Home is about three generations of headstrong women discovering the threads of unspoken secrets, shared dreams, and unflinching determination that bind them together. “The initial impulse came from my real interest in legacy, and what we as kids receive from the people who come before us,” Silverman said. “Part of what makes the conversation about legacy so powerful is when you can feel the visceral threads connecting generations.”
For example, Silverman’s grandmother was born in Germany and the life she led was quite a bit different than Silverman’s mother’s life, which in turn, bears little resemblance to the life Jen leads now. It is the things the generations share that Silverman explores in her writing. “I am really interested in the threads of commonality,” she said.
Those threads manifest in unlikely ways. “My grandmother was famously stubborn. As I was growing up my parents would say, you are just like your grandmother,” she said with a laugh.
All the Roads Home had its world premiere at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in March, but Silverman said the Long Wharf reading will give them the opportunity to make important changes to the play. There might be even more music in the piece and some of it might be a different style. “(Composer) Dan Kluger and I made a series of discoveries about what the music wants to sound like,” Silverman said.
In Cincinnati they experimented with a bluegrass Americana vibe in the first two parts of the play. In the play’s third section, the music had more of an electropop feel. Silverman and Kluger are thinking of keeping the bluegrass feel through the whole piece. “We started feeling that it isn’t about music changing it is about the characters changing,” Silverman said.
Silverman’s career as a playwright started by accident. Already working in prose, Silverman was drawn to the form during her time at Brown University. “I got pulled into this crazy theatre thing. My parents are scientists so I didn’t grow up going to the theatre … I had no concept of how magnetic and alive live performance is,” she said.
In addition to working on her various commissions – one of which is for Long Wharf – Silverman is working on a novel. She finished a book of interconnected short stories entitled “Island Dwellers” this past fall.