updated version of retired prof’s play staged in Twin Cities
The historical characters included in Jack Bushnell’s one-act play, The Infinity Monologues – Stephen Hawking, Amelia Earhart, and Lawrence Oates – were all trailblazers of one kind or another. Bushnell, a professor emeritus of English at UW-Eau Claire who has published four children’s books, has been exploring unknown territory of his own in recent years as he works to establish himself as a playwright. He was given a big boost recently when The Infinity Monologues was chosen as a winner in the 20th annual New Play Festival sponsored by the Twin Cities-based Chameleon Theatre Circle. As part of the festival, the professional theater company will present a minimally staged version of the play on Sept. 29 in Bloomington, Minnesota.
As the title implies, the play is a series of interlocking monologues by characters who stared into the infinite in one way or another: Hawking as a physicist theorizing about black holes and other heady topics: Earhart as a pioneering aviator who vanished trying to circumnavigate the globe; and Oates as an early 20th-century Antarctic explorer who sacrificed himself in an attempt to save his comrades.
“The more I began to write the play … the more they seemed similar to me,” Bushnell said of the trio. Earhart and Oates died as explorers, while Hawking – though paralyzed – continued to explore the cutting edge of physics long after doctors had predicted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) would kill him. Bushnell tried to stay true to his subjects’ biographies while also leaping into fiction. “The play tries to imagine the unimaginable,” he explained.
The Infinity Monologues was given a staged reading by BareBones Ensemble Theatre at The Volume One Gallery in 2014. Afterward, Bushnell continued to revise the play and submit it to contests.
Last year, however, Hawking succumbed to his illness, leading Bushnell to make extensive revisions to the play. In its original version, Hawking had manged to use mathematics and physics to keep himself alive forever. (Bushnell had been inspired to write Hawking’s apparent escape from the inescapable as a metaphor for the physicist’s famous theory that radiation can indeed escape from black holes.)
After Hawking died, Bushnell had to update the script to address reality. “It’s harder to talk about it than to let it play out on stage,” he said of his latest updates, “but I think it works, and I was glad this festival thought that it works.”
Bushnell said he is “cautiously hopeful” that the staging of his play prompts further interest in his work. In addition to The Infinity Monologues, Bushnell has penned a second play, Seal Skin, which was given a professional staged reading at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis last year, and he is revising two other full-length plays. Like Hawking and the others, Bushnell is bravely pushing forward into the great beyond.
The Infinity Monologues will be part of the Chameleon Theatre Circle’s New Play Festival, which begins at 12:30pm on Sunday, Sept. 29, at the Bloomington Center for the Arts, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, Minnesota. The festival is free, but tickets are required. They can be ordered online at chameleontheatre.org.