Robert Wray was depressed. Very depressed. The kind of depression that only comes from world-altering personal loss. It was the early 2000s and, as an actor and playwright, the only thing that made sense was to write his way through it. He didn’t have any characters, he didn’t have a plot, only that dark internal chasm to draw from. “I really followed blindly as I wrote,” he recalled. Session after session, Wray would capture in his journal the torrent of anguish flowing through his mind, transcribing these fleeting images no matter where they led or how incongruous they felt. Once on paper, he could allow himself the emotional distance needed to reflect on the pain and thereby process it. His method of literary catharsis planted the seed for what would ultimately become the script Bullet For Unaccompanied Heart, a tragicomic time-bending love story being performed this month by Four County Players in Barboursville.
The play follows blues guitarist Dugan McBane (performed by Jack Rakes) and his lost lover Anya Magnifico (performed by Alison Bushey), herself a victim of suicide. Through Dugan’s obsessive memory of their failed relationship, we relive key moments in a kaleidoscopic manner as each person’s perspective blends with the other’s. “The script itself is best understood as a crossword puzzle,” explained Wray, both in the metaphorical sense that the characters each confront time in their own way, providing new fragments of meaning to accumulate on previously encountered scenes, but also in the literal sense that actual crossword diagrams pepper the action. A third character, Milo (performed by Nathan Anderith), serves as Anya’s henchman and the swaggering personification of Dugan’s guilt. The structure of the story may be somewhat difficult to describe, but that was an intentional choice according to Wray, saying, “Much of the experience will be an emotional one, not an intellectual one.”
Regarding the strange way that past, present, and future are melded together all at once, Director Marty Moore said that it forces viewers to focus when things are happening. The temporal movement is sometimes mysterious, but she assured that audience members will be able “to get on the ride and accept these things.” Though she has nothing but respect for the script, she had to admit that when she first read it, it hit a little too close to home for her to appreciate. Moore had a close family member who committed suicide, so getting through the text was challenging. However, after coming back to it multiple times, she became enamored by the poetic beauty in Wray’s passages and eventually fell in love with it all. “Robert has a beautiful way of finding the female voice,” Moore enthused, “like, how did you write this? You're a man!”
This will actually be Moore’s second time directing Bullet as she performed the same role for its debut last year at FringeNYC. Similarly, the Stage Director for that production, Alison Bushey, will be a performer this time around, showing just how consuming the project can be. Their work at the festival was met with an enthusiastically positive reception. Moore recalled that at some performances, audience members would remain in their seats sobbing well after the last scene had ended and the house lights were up. Given its somber nature and monologue-heavy structure, the play provides a real acting challenge, but Moore is confident that Four County’s production will be just as moving. “I'm very close to this play,” she confided, “but these actors still give me chills.”
“It revealed things about myself that I didn't realize were going on,” he confessed. “I saw my monsters in a brighter light.”
Though Wray has spent a lot of time working in New York (he actually was first produced there by the Circle Repertory Company), he has lived in Charlottesville for the past eleven years and loves the theater community in the region. Bullet will draw on a good bit of that talent for its technical design, including Lighting Designer Tom Harrell who has put together an evocative assemblage of video projections to light up Four County’s intimate black box cellar space. It will also feature original compositions by the musician power-couple Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri. Their spare lyrical melodies and subdued, halting synthesizer accompaniment provide the story with an appropriately melancholy soundtrack. Regarding the overall reception at Four County Players, Wray said, "They've been so supportive and open to my needs and ideas. I couldn't be happier with how the whole thing is going."
That positive note raises the question, was it all worth it? Did writing Bullet help Wray rid himself of the depression that was plaguing him? In a word: Absolutely. “It revealed things about myself that I didn't realize were going on,” he confessed. “I saw my monsters in a brighter light. They weren't as much in the shadows anymore.” Though it was a difficult process, reading the passages on the page back to himself served as a type of self-administered counseling. It brought troubling elements of his subconscious to the forefront and, in turn, allowed him to have a more conscious understanding of what was ailing him. Besides having the side-effect of producing a fully-formed piece of art, it was a completely therapeutic experience. “I recommend it to everyone,” Wray urged, “write your demons.”
Bullet For Unaccompanied Heart will be performed at the Four County Players Cellar Theater from October 7–22, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM. Admission is $15, mature audiences only. To purchase tickets, call 540-832-5355 or visit fourcp.org.
Photography by Marty Moore