Student Playwright Spotlight: 'Bitter Root' by Joanna Alpern

We here at Tribe Theatre are constantly impressed by the quantity and quality of student playwrights in St Andrews and want to help showcase their talent by publishing snippets of their work. On the Rocks presents us with an amazing opportunity to do this because not only are the theatre productions in the Student Arts Festival produced, directed, and acted in by St Andrews students, but some are also written by students! So we contacted the writers of these shows and talked with them about their experience in theatre as well as writing in general and asked them to send us segments from their shows. Bitter Root is Joanna Alpern's second contribution to On the Rocks; last year she wrote 'Echo', a one act that went up alongside Tennessee William's 'Talk to me like the rain' in a night of one acts entitled Acts of the Bedroom. See reviews for Acts of the Bedroom here: as well as an interview the Tribe did with her before Acts of the Bedroom: Bitter Root goes up on Saturday April 6th at 2:30pm and 7:30pm in the Barron Theatre.

Show summary: "In a new piece of student writing, Laura and John retreat to the countryside in the wake of a traumatic incident. The house is secluded and their sole visitor is their overbearing eighty-year-old widowed neighbour, until the extended family comes to stay. John is welcoming. Laura is not."


Extract from Bitter Root, Act 1. Morning.

 Mrs Wallo: Besides. You can’t ever really go back after something like that. Can’t concentrate. No use. To anybody. And there’s no need to make much money anymore. You get by on very little living alone- John: [Quickly.] So, er, what are you baking Mrs Wallo? Mrs Wallo: Ah yes, I should have said, we’re having a bake sale to raise money for the soldiers. John: Oh, for the ones returning? Helping them reintegrate, get jobs and therapy- Mrs Wallo: No, no dear, for the grave stones. We want to get the gravestones polished. [Pause.] John: Oh. Laura: And what are you making? Mrs Wallo: Sponge. John: Ooh, like a Victoria Sponge? With that nice jam and cream in the middle-? Mrs Wallo: No. Just plain, simple sponge John. Sorry to disappoint. John: Right. Mrs Wallo: Well, it’s not for people to enjoy themselves really, is it John? Men have died out there. [Smooths down her dress.] It’s to show respect. John: Of course, of course. Mrs Wallo: Don’t suppose jam and cream were exactly running through their minds in the crux of battle. John: No… I guess not.  bitter root image Extract from Bitter Root, Act 2. Night.  John: I think we should throw the lilies out, don’t you think Laura? Laura: What, why?John: Because they’re starting to stink. And I think I’m allergic. Laura: How can you be allergic to lilies? John: I don’t know, but look, can you see- [John rolls up his sleeves, Laura looks away and cuts him off.] Laura: Well people have stopped sending them anyway. [John rolls his sleeves down.] John: They’re going brown too. Laura: Yes, and they started off so white… White as baby hair in fact... Do you remember when he first started growing hair? When it was quite white, and blonde, you’d never have guessed it knowing him now… [She realises she should have said ‘then’, but does not correct herself.] … With that scraggly brown mess it was always in… No, it wasn’t like that at all, it was all white – and soft. How do things - start off so white and end so - brown? John: They’re dying. Laura: [Louder.] Maybe they’re - choosing to die. Maybe they don’t like it here. You know, I was always endeared to plants, because they were alive and yet they never made a sound. I used to find it graceful. But perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps it isn’t graceful at all. To suffer in silence. After all, it’s so soon, so untimely, a flower’s death. It seems that almost as soon as they open themselves up to survey the world, they close in again. On themselves. And go brown. John: Laura, you’ve spent the last twenty years looking at desert flowers, ones that sprout new growth after long periods of drought. You know they’re not all as flimsy as these- Laura: I’ll throw them out in the morning. logo Extract by Joanna Alpern. Reporting by Emily Grant. Photo credits go to Joanna Alpern and On the Rocks. The show summary is taken from the On the Rocks 2013 Programme.