The ‘True’ Story: New drama shares gritty lives of an American family

By Bridgette Redman

When you’re talking about family, certain things are true no matter the hometown.

It’s what makes Andrew Bovell’s family drama, “Things I Know to Be True,” resonate for audiences—whether they are in Australia, the United Kingdom, the Midwest or the Southwest.

A new play that opened in 2016 in Australia and then toured the United Kingdom, “Things I Know to Be True” is getting its U.S. premiere as a co-production between The Arizona Theatre Company and The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. It runs through Saturday, May 11, in Tucson.

Bob and Fran Price, two working-class parents, have raised four strong, very different children. As the adult children explore their own independent lives, the family struggles as they learn new things about each other and strike out in ways that cause each other pain.

The play opens and closes with a monologue by 19-year-old Rosie, played by Aubyn Heglie, a recent Carnegie Mellon graduate who is making her professional debut with this show. She says the show has a huge heart.

“You have a chance to identify and empathize with every single character in this show,” Heglie says. “Also, every single character lets another character down and makes a huge mistake. They are all flawed, yet all loveable. That is the epitome of family—that you can see each other’s flaws and be hurt by each other, but at the end of the day, you still love each other dearly.”

Director Mark Clemens worked with Bovell before and said if his new play came to the United States, he would love to direct it. So last summer, they got together and did a workshop with the script, trying to figure out how it could translate from an Australian family to a Midwestern family. They brought in a dramaturg, Brent Hazelton, to help make linguistic changes. Then when actors arrived for the first rehearsal earlier this year, the playwright traveled to Milwaukee to consult with the actors about the language’s authenticity.

Bovell toured areas around Milwaukee listening to accents and trying to pick up on the language. No particular city is mentioned in the play, but it is understood to be set somewhere in Wisconsin.

“There really is a Midwest everywhere,” says Heglie, who has family in the Midwest. “That classic, blue-collar family exists in a lot of different places. I think it translated beautifully to being an American family.”

The Arizona Theatre Company’s former artistic director David Ives participated in the casting and worked with Clemens to make it a true co-production.

Heglie says “Things I Know to Be True” reinforced her belief that the theater world is small. The actor playing her father, Bill Geisslinger, performed often at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland where she grew up. Zach Fifer, who plays her brother Ben, is a New York classmate who attended her Christmas party.

In “Things I Know to Be True,” Rosie has come home from a get-away during her “gap year,” where she hooked up with a guy who ran out on her. Now she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do. She is greeted by her family—parents Tom and Fran, older siblings Pip, Mark and Ben.

Each character has struggles and is going through major life changes, and the play deals with such issues as divorce, drug abuse, transgenderism, physical abuse, aging and loss.

“The thing I find very inspiring about this play and the characters is that no matter how brutal it gets, no matter what is said, there is a resilience,” Heglie says. “Can you come back from that in a relationship? Can you recover? They do to some capacity. I talk a lot about seasons in my monologue. Life goes on is a line I say and that’s true. No matter what happens, you live on and you try to forgive or you co-exist and you find a way. Even when such cruelty happens, or deep misunderstandings, they are resilient and there will always be some level of love, which I think is beautiful.”

While it is a play about a struggling working-class family, Heglie says it’s not a kitchen sink drama, something that depicts the gritty lives of its working-class characters.

While “Things I Know to Be True” does focus on working-class characters and has a lot of crying and shouting, the play eschews realism for a more poetic style of storytelling.

“There is an ephemeral quality to the show,” says Heglie. “It is not a memory play, but it has poetic language, the movement is theatrical. There is something poetic and heightened in the language.”

The show called upon the skills of Chicago choreographer Julia Rhoads as a stage movement director. She created a physical language for the play, a poetry meant to heighten the dialog.

“It isn’t so much as dance as physical theater,” Heglie says. “In my opening monolog, I’m talking about my family and they are present with me on stage. They are moving me, lifting me, almost shadow selves or figments of memory taking a tangible form. It’s physical poetry. It’s not totally naturalistic and it’s not dance. It’s somewhere in between.”

She says it asks the audience to suspend disbelief, and draws them into the story artistically like a beautiful line of a song or a painting. Likewise, it is not a musical, but there is sound design that includes music and underscoring during monologues with music created by Joe Cerqua.

“The set, the choreography and the language remind me of how you remember with your family,” says Heglie. “There is how you live and interact with them and then there is how you remember them. (The play) defies expectations in a really tantalizing way.”

As the final play in The Arizona Theatre Company’s 2018-2019 season, “Things I Know to Be True” takes an ensemble to tell a story meant to reach out to everyone no matter who and where they are. With a cast of six, the show gives each of its characters a chance to show their struggles.

“We really do follow the parents a lot, but one of my favorite questions to ask my family and friends when they see this show is—whose story do you think this?” Heglie says. “You get a couple different answers. I believe it is the family story. It is about this family organism. That is really beautiful.”

more info

What: “Things I Know to Be True”

When: Various times through Saturday, May 11

Where: Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Avenue

Cost: $20-$90

Info: 622.2823,