FEATURE | July 3, 2007
Dan O’Brien’s The Dear Boy:
The Dear Boy was written a few years ago, when I was remembering some teachers who seemed to dislike me unfairly, comically even, and trying to imagine the student I’d been, someone who might invite, if not deserve, their disdain. Both characterizations, teacher and student, and the events of the play, have been of course dramatized.
I wrote The Dear Boy while living in the woods on a year-long fellowship at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. It is a beautiful place. This was my first attempt to write about my childhood and the town I grew up in. So, in terms of setting, mood, and emotional meaning, the play is very close to autobiography.
This play may make some people think of the recent murders at Virginia Tech: the student whose emotional life is a question mark, the gun in the knapsack, the upsetting mess of the student’s poems and plays. I don’t pretend to know anything about the life of the murderer and his family (if anything, the threat in my play is one of suicide); and the events at Virginia Tech announce really, once more, that age-old problem of evil, a problem to make any preface-writing playwright throw up his hands. But there is, as everyone knows, a kinship between violence and creating. Why do some abused children grow up to be criminals, and others to be artists of some sort (or tax attorneys, laborers, or English teachers)? The difference may be one of luck, or expression, of finding a way to speak and, more importantly perhaps, someone to listen. Which is why The Dear Boy ends on a hopeful note, in its small way perhaps romantically.