Having an entire season devoted to my own work is a true gift – and the fact that
Profile Theatre is in my home town makes it all the more magical.” ~ TB
Tanya Barfield is from Portland, Oregon. Her play Bright Half Life premiered at the Women’s Project Theater and was a TimeOut Critic’s Pick. Her play The Call premiered at Playwrights Horizons in co-production with Primary Stages and was a Critic’s Pick for the New York Times. Blue Door (South Coast Rep, Playwrights Horizons) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Other work includes: Feast (co-writer, Young Vic/Royal Court), Of Equal Measure (Center Theatre Group), Chat (New Dramatists’ Playtime Festival), and The Quick (New York Stage & Film). A recipient of a Lilly Award, the inaugural Lilly Award Commission and a Helen Merrill Award, Tanya is a proud alumna of New Dramatists and a member of The Dramatist Guild Council. She has written for the upcoming Starz series, The One Percent. She currently writes for The Americans on FX.
Like Fingers Clasped Together: The Work of Tanya Barfield
by Hannah Fattor, Profile Theatre Dramaturgy Intern
Like fingers clasped together, relationships and conversations overlap in Tanya Barfield’s plays. Characters speak over their past and future selves, interact with forefathers long dead, and flicker through time in an exploration of how human beings define themselves through personal history or ancestral memory. Barfield’s own experiences as a bi-racial, gay woman and the depth of her research into historical and social contexts have infused her work with a sensitivity toward characters that are human beings rather than mouthpieces. Instead of relying on patterns of storytelling to get across well-worn messages about the oppression of women or African-Americans or people in poverty, Barfield examines issues of sexuality, class, race, gender, politics, and love by focusing on details: the lies we tell to protect ourselves and those we care about; the truths we must face to grow as human beings; the people who challenge us in exciting or difficult ways; how we rise to meet those challenges, and fail, and rise again and again until the lesson is learned. Barfield’s eyes are wide open, curious, seeking the nuances that affect large and painful issues of discrimination. Her deep, careful research shines through in the complex characters she creates to communicate the struggles within her plays.
Above all, Tanya Barfield places a deep trust in her actors. She initially went to school for acting (before she learned that playwrighting was not a dead profession), and her minimalist staging, tight back-and-forth dialogue, and tight character shifts rely on skilled performers to bring her ideas to life. Barfield’s plays are filled with conversations both halting and harried, insightful and disjointed, honest and oblivious. She skillfully clips words too painful to speak and tangles dialogue together as characters either connect with each other to the point of finishing each other’s sentences, or fail to understand each other when grievances are ignored. Through snarled arguments and honest, uncomfortable dialogues Barfield expresses how difficult and yet how necessary conversation is. Not every exchange is a debate with a clear winner at the end; at times it is simply necessary to speak with one another.
In these conversations, Barfield interweaves the many identities that one character inhabits with the many identities that other characters inhabit. These various identities do not contradict each other; they intersect and conflict but they make up a whole human being. People suffer when they reject aspects of themselves, from racial and class backgrounds to sexuality and love. Yet, as she folds the past and present together, Barfield reveals that no one is incapable of change if they can recognize and discuss their perspective on the world, however flawed it may be. Through connection and honest conversation, progress is possible.