AUTHOR'S NOTE + SYNOPSIS

A U T H O R ' S   N O T E :

WHAT THIS DISTANT MIRROR REFLECTS

CALL ME TANIA’s subject matter – the fluidity of identity required to survive extreme trauma and coercion, including trauma-bonding and identification with violent perpetrators – speaks to the psychological and spiritual dilemmas of survivors of child abuse, domestic violence, extremist cults, military combat, child soldiers, and human trafficking.

 

The play’s theatrical journey recontextualizes today’s sociological and political issues of race and class within the script’s moral conflicts and political contradictions. It presents new perspectives on the psychology of trauma and survivorship, providing a fresh lens for examining the current challenges facing the public and policymakers, including the psychological pressure put upon citizens to vote against their own self interests.

 

The story reveals:

  •      How our identities are shaped, far beyond our expectations, by coercive                         social pressures including the media

 

  •      How our personal and political allegiances can shift against our own best interests

 

  •      How all conflicts – personal and political – are battles of competing narratives

Crafted as a multileveled theatrical experience for a diverse range of audiences – including non-traditional theatergoers – the play’s highest objective is to guide its spectators to find no opposition between being engaged, being challenged, and being entertained.

 

Ultimately, CALL ME TANIA is an uplifting story of survival, self-discovery and self-determination, as its historic central figure triumphantly overcomes seemingly impossible internal and external obstacles.

S Y N O P S I S 

CALL ME TANIA: The Unauthorized Occupation of Patty Hearst  (an alternative identity musical) 

responsibly interprets the real-life story surrounding the 1974 political kidnapping of a 19-year-old media heiress by a ragtag militant group.  After being held captive in a closet for 59 days, she emerges declaring her new identity as Tania and her “choice” to join her kidnappers' mission to overthrow the US government.

                                                                 ACT ONE

 

Patty – like all teenagers – has uncertainty about her own identity. Her parents’ expectations (and their wealth and acclaim) make it even more challenging for her to figure out what she really wants for herself – and who she really is – what identity is her own beyond the role her parents and society have cast her to play.  

 

On an ordinary night, an unexpected knock at the door sends Patty down a dark and mysterious rabbit hole when she is kidnapped by radical militant SLA “soldiers” who have declared war on “this fascist nation.” 

 

The SLA sees the Hearst family and its media empire as symbolically, and literally, the oppressive enemy of The People. They want to use the Hearst family’s wealth and fame to launch their revolution – and it works: the kidnapping is the top news story around the world. 

 

Patty is forced to tape-record her own ransom note outlining the SLA’s unattainable demand: to feed every poor person in California.  The recording of Patty’s voice is broadcast across the country on radio and television and a full transcript is printed in all major newspapers.  

 

However, the cost of feeding the poor exceeds even the Hearsts’ private and corporate wealth, combined. Mr. Hearst, somewhat sympathetic to the struggle of the have-nots, points out how “a perfect world” is one of the most horrible things ever demanded.

 

Unexpectedly, thousands line up for the food ransom give-away. The situation goes from push-and-shove into a full-scale riot. As the riot unfolds in “slow-motion” a figure steps forward and confronts Mrs. Hearst on class inequality.

 

Meanwhile, Patty is still being held captive inside a closet – for weeks now. Beyond the trauma of assault and isolation, she is subjected to military grade “mind-control” by the SLA’s leader – General Field Marshal Cinque – to deconstruct and reprogram her belief system. 

 

When the SLA secretly slips Patty LSD, it sends her on a vertiginous psychedelic journey with dark passages.  Hallucinating, she encounters her dead grandparents who offer cryptic clues for her survival (and for her only chance of redemption).

 

As the FBI manhunt for the kidnappers intensifies, the SLA releases more tape-recordings of Patty’s own voice. She spells out her kidnappers’ increasingly bizarre demands, along with a manifesto of their radical political agenda. Relayed on radio and television, Patty’s words shock everyone.

 

Now confronted by the “choice” of joining the SLA or being executed, Patty “chooses” survival. The brainwashing assault on her understanding of reality is working. Under the unbearable psychological stress and coercive mind-control, Patty surrenders her former identity and takes up a new mind controlled alternate – she transforms into Tania, a “willing” and committed militant revolutionary.

 

The SLA understands politics is a battle of narratives. They strategically stage guerilla theatre using loaded guns to ignite a new civil war – aspiring to liberate the poor, especially people of color. This approach is a strange echo of Patty’s grandfather, the legendary William Randolph Hearst, who leveraged America into The Spanish American War with wholesale fictions he printed (with faked photographs) in his own newspapers.

 

The first time Patty’s parents – and the spellbound public – see her since her abduction, she is robbing a bank. She wields a military assault-rifle right alongside of her militant captors on a loop of bank surveillance footage that’s seen over-and-over around the world.

 

...and she crosses the point of no return.

                                                            ACT TWO

 

The media circus intensifies as journalists try to make sense of what’s happening. Public opinion shifts decidedly against Patty as she seemingly transforms from an innocent victim into a fugitive outlaw in front of our eyes. As the mystery deepens, her parents have contrasting responses to the uncertainty and guilt they feel.

 

Patty is now a fugitive on the run with the SLA. When two of her comrades are caught shoplifting, Patty rescues them with zombie-like programmed reflexes and a spray of machine-gun fire.  Having abandoned their van, the SLA needs new wheels. Patty and the SLA carjack a teenager, he’s unexpectedly delighted to be joyriding with his world-famous captors.

 

A parking ticket left inside their abandoned van leads the FBI to the SLA’s hideout. The world watches on TV as the SLA hideout is surrounded by hundreds of SWAT commandos, FBI agents and LAPD officers. This is the first time anything like this event is broadcast live on TV while it happens. The standoff becomes a shootout and escalates into an explosive battle – ending only after the hideout is burned to the ground. All the while, Patty is presumed to be inside. 

 

The SLA’s leader, Cinque, is killed, burned alive. Patty now believes the SLA was telling her the truth all along – the FBI does not want to rescue her, they want to kill her too.

 

After his death, Cinque exposes his humanity, through song, as he concedes the regrets of his unfulfilled dreams. Patty and the surviving SLA members travel onward. Mr. and Mrs. Hearst sing of enduing a year-long stretch of aching uncertainty as Patty completely drops off the radar.

 

The FBI discovers Patty and the remaining SLA members at their new hideout. Patty is arrested and taken to jail, reigniting the media frenzy. The media represent her as “captured” not “rescued.” When being booked and asked for her occupation, she answers: “urban guerilla.”

 

Patty is forced to go on trial for bank robbery. In the courtroom the prosecutors and her buffoonish defense lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, spin the heartbreaking tragedy into an absurdist farce.

 

While all criminal trials are battles of competing narratives, Patty’s courtroom drama claims contradictory positions on the nature of the human mind under traumatic stress – placing freewill itself on trial.

 

In court, her bank robbery defense of “brainwashing” is mocked by the Federal prosecutors and rejected by the jury – who ironically echo Patty’s feelings of being unfairly coerced. She’s found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison.

 

Escorted to prison, Patty sings a lament of how she now has no identity at all – except for the false identities forced upon her.

 

When asked for an admission of guilt in exchange for a shorter prison sentence, Patty refuses to barter away the last of her core innocence. She insists she would rather “sit in the silence of her innocence.” She would rather serve her full sentence than damn herself for all time.  Now Patty begins her second transfiguration, from a criminalized child soldier – coerced into self-betrayal – into her own liberator, reclaiming her self-possession and her emotional and spiritual sovereignty.

 

After serving two years in prison, Patty is released by the intervention of President Carter. She has the life-changing realization of why the jury condemned her – a compassionate awakening to the flaws and frailties of human nature.

                                                            CURTAIN

Ultimately, CALL ME TANIA is an uplifting story of survival, self-discovery and self-determination, as its historic central figure triumphantly overcomes seemingly impossible internal and external obstacles.

CALL ME TANIA: The Unauthorized Occupation of Patty Hearst - book, lyrics & music © 2018 Leonard Dolivio Cetrangolo