Am I not a man? And is a man not stupid? I’m a man, so I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe. – Zorba
As part of this year’s ‘Ignite!’ season, we went to hear a reading of the new play, “The Full Catastrophe”, by Mark Weller. Adapted from the David Carkeet novel of the same title, this is a tragicomic story of the verbally disturbed Wilsons, Dan and Beth, of Saint Louis, MO (Ladue actually) and their troubled marriage. In order to save their marriage, they hire linguist Jeremy Cook to act as a live-in marriage counselor. Cook has only recently lost his longtime gig of studying preschooler’s speech patterns and has just snagged this new job with the mysterious Pillow Agency. Roy Pillow the strange founder of the Pillow Agency, author of the Pillow Manual and creator of the Pillow Method has as his main dialog contribution the line, “The Horror. The Horror.” He repeats this line throughout the play, all Kurtz-like, as from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.
This is Jeremy’s first case. To say that Jeremy is a little off-kilter himself is a bit of an understatement. He comes to the subject of interpersonal relationships with the same understanding that a visiting space alien on his first trip to earth might have. Still, he is able to diagnose the problem with this linguistically troubled marriage right off the bat as “complementary schismogenesis” or the mutual creation of division, but once diagnosed he seems at a total lost at how to cure its woes.
Part of Jeremy’s problem is his own tortured history with love. Years ago, he let his one true love, Paula, walk out of his life and has come to regret it ever since. Tension in the Wilson household comes to a head when news arrives that the summer camp that Dan and Beth had planned on housing their son, Robbie in, has suddenly closed. They had planned on spending their summer together, jetting off to Italy, renewing their lost passion for each other and saving their marriage. Beth is heard yelling at and accusing Dan, “The summer is ruined! The summer is ruined!” Not knowing how to relate to, let alone counsel Dan and Beth, Jeremy’s big moment comes when he helps the kid do a homework assignment that is requiring him to write a sentence ending in a preposition.
The linguist tells him to imagine a little boy who is upstairs in his room waiting for his father to come read him a story. He goes to the top of the stairs and waits. He hears his father coming, but when he sees the book his father has chosen, he’s disappointed. So he says to his father, “What are you bringing that book that I don’t want to be read to from out of up for?”