ED2014 Columns ED2014 Theatre ED2014 Week0 Edition

Allen Barton: Years To The Day

By | Published on Sunday 20 July 2014

Sitting in the Pleasance’s theatre programme, ‘Years To The Day’ is an examination of the nature of friendship in an online age. Two friends come together for a face-to face coffee after years of interacting exclusively via social media, where, as everyone knows, few people really present themselves as they actually are. Can their friendship survive this real life encounter?

Years To The Day

Inspired by actual events, this comedy drama explores topics such as marriage, films, politics and gay rights, as well as scrutinising social media. Author Allen Barton, an LA-based writer director, teacher and classical pianist, tells us how it all came about.

I’m the annoying friend who pesters other friends to get together in person. It’s practically a secondary career for which I’ve developed strategies, persistence, long-term goals. Twenty-four years after college, I still miss the dining hall, where glorious hours could be spent blowing off ten-page papers to argue about politics, religion, or the latest film.

I have a friend I’ve known since junior high school – she moved to California when I was 16, and we exchanged letters every month for quite a while. She has lived in Newport Beach, and I forty minutes north in Los Angeles, for over twenty years. We’ve seen each other once.

It requires Herculean effort and persistence to get together with friends these days, against an endless sea of quotidian conflicts. And why bother, when Facebook makes the substitute so easy? But occasionally, success! A couple years ago I secured a sitdown with my old friend Jeff. How long had it been? I searched my online calendar for his name, and sure enough, there it was: four years ago, to the day. Too good.

We both shook our heads – how had the time for an entire university education flown by, while we had settled for commenting on each other’s Facebook posts? Hey, a new baby! Click ‘Like’ and the celebration is done. A new job! Click ‘Like’ and the congratulations are over. I haven’t received a personal letter in years. The form has become a relic. I teach acting at The Beverly Hills Playhouse, and try emphatically to encourage students to communicate with people in the business by hand-written cards, not by emails or text or Twitter or Facebook.

A fascinating ninety minutes passed with Jeff, where we rediscovered more than a bit about why we were friends, and how the casual social media banter can make it seem as if we’re in touch and connected, when in fact we’re not – not in the slightest. He had gone through a divorce, my daughter had been born, we fought about politics as usual, but at moments it seemed as if we’d lost the easy humor with which we’d engaged before.

Why? Had our early forties “we’re men now” maturity made us more certain of who we were, less in need of others’ approval? Or were we just more calcified and inflexible to different points of view? Frankly, at times, the friendship seemed expired, and I know we both shared the unspoken question: “Is this the last time I’m going to see this person?” Over time, I have developed the ability to sense this depressing occasion in the moment.

I noted to Jeff that we had on our hands a decent dramatic premise: a single conversation between two old friends who hadn’t seen each other in quite some time – rehashing history, divulging secrets. There would be the challenge of creating a single conversation that would be engaging for 80 minutes or so. Driving around LA these days, I’ve noticed I no longer can tell the difference between posters for movies, video games and amusement park rides, and here could be a small antidote to the ever-increasing hyper-adrenalisation of American storytelling: A conversation, and nothing more.

And thus, my play ‘Years To The Day’ was born. Jeff fortunately remains a good friend, and, as a first-rate actor, ended up playing the role of the entirely fictionalized ‘Jeff’ in the play, which has now been performed in LA, Paris, New York, and is scheduled for Edinburgh, San Francisco and Athens still in 2014. These in-person get-togethers can yield some wondrous, unexpected results. They’re worth the effort.

‘Years To The Day’ was performed at the Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2014.

LINKS: ineswurth.com/la2edinburgh | skylighttheatrecompany.com