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Welcome to Visiting Edna

by Anna D. Shapiro

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to the first show of Steppenwolf ’s 41st season.

It is truly fitting that we begin the next phase of Steppenwolf ’s journey with David Rabe’s world premiere, Visiting Edna. Mr. Rabe, along with being a lion of the American Theatre, has impacted every generation of Steppenwolf ’s ensemble. With his form-pushing narratives and deeply complex character construction, he has, decade by decade, created a sweeping body of work that represents everything Steppenwolf aspires to be: truthful, brave, original and vital. The play, the story of a son coming home to visit his beloved but terminally ill mother, captures with great compassion, humor and insight a moment so many of us have faced and will face—the loss of a parent—and Mr. Rabe marshals his considerable powers to both illuminate and embrace every essential element of this human moment.

For me, as both artistic director of Steppenwolf and the play’s director, the power and necessity of Visiting Edna was apparent on my first read. A fairly new parent myself, I have been struck—though not surprised—every day by the depth of my love for my children. That my relationship to both responsibility and discipline is complex has also not been a surprise, nor has my seemingly endless questioning of my own behavior or theirs. What has been a surprise, or to use a better word, a shock, has been the unexpected and unpredictable air of romance. Until Edna, this feeling had been unnamed in me, living in between the more nameable moments of frustration or pride, washing over me when I least expect it and changing the way I see not only my children but myself, and (just for a moment) the world I thought I knew. So much of parenting, not unlike so much of being someone’s child, is about a measured and what we hope is unseen tolerance for the other—each of us seeing in our child or our parent only the demand they make and our tactical (if still loving) responsibility. What Visiting Edna does so beautifully, so generously, is identify that love, familial love, is not simply demanding in what it asks but challenging in what it gives. And what I believe Mr. Rabe understands is that to truly accept that—to accept the truth of the romance—is to look directly into the face of inevitable heartbreak and loss. That he does this with such unmatched skill of craft and such affection for his audience’s failings is nothing short of miraculous. It is a gift he is giving every one of us who dare to love each other. It is, like the best of theatre, an invitation to life.

Visiting Edna marks Mr. Rabe’s 18th play and signals yet another chapter in his own formidable journey as an artist and we are deeply honored that he has chosen Steppenwolf as his partner for this next chapter.

Anna D. Shapiro, Artistic Director