Ever since Tom Brokaw wrote about the men who went off to fight World War II and the women who sacrificed on the home front awaiting their return, they have been known as “The Greatest Generation.” But in the way his grandfather’s contemporaries had been idealized, playwright Sharr White sensed that the full story had yet to be told.
That led him to write Six Years, the theatrical saga of Phil and Meredith Granger, seen from 1949 to 1973, in five separate scenes spaced, yes, six years apart. And in his selection of the years, White shows his characters against a backdrop of the post-war suburban boom, the optimism of the early ’60s and the divisiveness of the Vietnam conflict. As the second shoe to drop in the Caldwell Theatre’s summer examination of America throughout the 20th century, the Boca Raton company presents the 2006 drama’s Florida premiere.
“What’s happened to us since ‘The Greatest Generation’ was published is we tended to take the complexity out of the experience,” White suggests. “And I really wanted to write a story about what I think is a lost generation of Americans.”
The play opens in a motel room, where we are introduced to Phil, who has returned from fighting overseas with that we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. But in the late ’40s, it was simply and dismissively called “exhaustion.”
“In World War II, we just literally did not have an adequate way to explain what was happening to people,” says White. “This play is about people who literally don’t have the words for what they’re experiencing. There’s a lot of language in this play where the characters can’t finish their sentences, they can’t find the right things to say.”
White researched events of the wars that touch this couple’s lives, to the extent of drawing on the newspaper accounts of the specific days he depicts. But he emphasizes that it was important to keep the social changes in the background as he focused on the human drama.
“For me, the play is really about the relationship between these two people,” says Todd Allen Durkin, cast as Phil. “ The war and the PTSD and all that are just there to show how it affects their relationship and the choices they make moving forward. But at the heart of it, it’s still a love story.”
Margery Lowe, who plays Meredith, agrees.
“They’re two people who love each other and want to be with each other, but throughout the years, obstacles keep getting in their way,” Lowe said. “Ultimately this play is talking about marriage, about relationships, about a couple that really wants to be with each other.”
Six Years ends four decades ago, but it is likely to bring to the audience’s mind more recent wars our country has been involved in. “Since we’re in a war now, the reference takes care of itself,” says Clive Cholerton, the Caldwell’s chief and the director of Six Years. “For me, it’s what I want Caldwell to be all about: That idea that there’s no way we can know who we are right now unless we know where we came from.”