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Essay

Playwright’s Perspective: Log Cabin

By Jordan Harrison, Playwright

Hi, I’m Jordan and I write period pieces. Every time I sit down at the keyboard, it seems. It feels strange to say it. Is that really me? Yes, yes it is. 

This is not by design. I’m not trying to make my way through the different decades of the twentieth century with any August Wilson-like methodology. But in my last 10 plays, we touch down in the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s (twice), the 1960s, and most recently — and perhaps most exotically — the 1340s. Add to the list a couple of jaunts to the near future, Marjorie Prime and Futura. So, when I described my new play Log Cabin to a friend recently, he was understandably incredulous: “Wait, so you wrote about now?” 

“Almost,” was my reply. 

Because it dawned on me that Log Cabin is also a period piece, and the period is 2012–2016. I’m glad for the chance to arm you with this knowledge going in, because the play concerns a kind of ethical erosion that feels very specific to a few years ago. The kind of moral slide that can take place when we start to take our rights for granted, when we get too comfortable. (Comfort is clearly no longer our greatest challenge.)

They are sucker-punched...by the sudden reminder of how far we still have to go.

As a gay person who came of age in the 90s, the expansion of my rights has sometimes felt exhilaratingly fast in the twenty-first century. From the first state legalizing same-sex civil unions in 2000 (Vermont, natch) to the Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that legalized gay marriage nationwide, progress has rarely been so breakneck. The characters in Log Cabin — a gay couple and a lesbian couple — have suddenly become so secure in their rights that they are blind to the upward climb of their trans buddy. A kind of living-room-sized culture war ignites between seemingly sympathetic minds (with some extra prompting from mojitos) who would all like to think of themselves as empathetic liberals. When 2016 rolls around, they are sucker-punched, as many of us were, by the sudden reminder of how far we still have to go, as a country, towards achieving the equality that we long boasted of rhetorically. At the end of the play, the differences between fellow liberals seem both larger, and at the same time, more bridge-able, than we previously thought. 

These days, it can feel like the 2008 election — or the 2012 election, for that matter — are as distant as anything from the previous century. What, then, can we gain from visiting the earlier part of this decade as time travelers? By seeing ways in which we were asleep then, can we stay alert for the long road ahead? Like all my period pieces, Log Cabin aims, more than anything, to be about right now.