Playwright Emily Ball Cicchini writes about her inspiration for The Funnybun Family Picnic, the latest work from Long Center Resident Company Pollyanna Theatre Company in the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theatre, July 14-21.
My newest play, The Funnybun Family Picnic, will make you laugh super hard and think twice about your fear of clowns. It’s appropriate for anyone 4 years old and up…although the more mature you are, the more inappropriate it will become. So, I hope you’ll bring the whole family, from toddler to teens to grands. And I hope you all have a good long chat about life and love afterwards.
Because, for any theatre people out there (and if you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you’re a theatre person), this play is Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman told through the culture of clowns. A bona fide clown friend of mine said, “clowning is holding a funhouse mirror up to reality.” In this case, we’re going one additional step, taking the great American dramatic classic for a transformative spin, so that the themes of disillusionment, denial, betrayal and loss…well, they’re still there, but they just don’t take themselves so darn seriously.
In this play, Willie is a rubber chicken salesman. Lindy is the dutiful wife—but, she’s also the major breadwinner—a respectable clown doctor. Happy, the youngest son, is in training to be a rodeo bullfighter. And Buffy, the older daughter, reluctantly studies to be a birthday party clown. Alas, there is trouble ahead for the Funnybun family as they embark on their annual picnic in their tiny car…the kind of trouble that’s set to make us all question the validity of the American Dream.
A totally profound experience was to first read and see the original play performed. Death of a Salesman voiced the frustrations that many felt with the dominant materialistic values of American life…and the failure of so many Americans to achieve a better quality of life through sheer optimism, salesmanship, and social connections. Don’t get me wrong, I continue to admire Arthur Miller; he is truly one of America’s greatest playwrights evah. But, I don’t always understand the elevation of tragedy as the highest form of drama. To me, Aristophanes was far more appealing than Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
A lot has changed since the play won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play—but many things haven’t. People are still losing their jobs. Families still struggle to keep themselves and their homes together. Memories, like marbles, are notoriously hard to hold. But I am no longer as pessimistic about families as I was when I first read Death of a Salesman. Now, when I look at Willie Loman, I want to shake him out of his limited ways, and dream that Linda comes up with the courage and action plan to help her whole family find a better path.
Yes, I’m an audacious enough to think I can parody an American classic. And Pollyanna’s excellent artistic team is audacious enough to produce this busy 50 minutes of non-stop clowning, gags, jokes, tricks, and warm beating hearts for your family’s enjoyment.
We hope you find it as entertaining and enlightening as the original…but, without all that messy tragedy.