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Darwin's Finches wonders what'd happen if humans lived outside any "natural" habitat

Wednesday, Apr 16 2003
Charles Darwin's discovery that 13 species of finches had adapted to the conditions on the Galapagos Islands led eventually to his theories on the survival of the fittest -- including the fittest humans. But what happens to those theories when humans no longer live in any "natural" habitat? In the world premiere of her latest play, Darwin's Finches, local playwright Claire Chafee attempts to answer this question by presenting a more emotional and intellectual kind of evolution, one that might better apply to our modern-day world.

"I don't really qualify for any of the aspects of survival of the fittest," Chafee says with a laugh, questioning how a writer and a lesbian would figure into Darwin's big picture. Still, she proposes a definition of fortitude that speaks to the ability of human beings to recover from tragedy and trauma by gaining a deeper understanding of themselves and those around them. In Finches, a paranoid schizophrenic named Willit goes in search of his sisters Gigi (a second-grade teacher) and Sophie (a scholar) to make reparations for past abuses. Willit longs to be a weatherman so that he can warn people of dark forecasts; his sisters speak in lyrical, philosophical soliloquies as they try to accept that their brother's memories are just as valid as their own. Like much of Chafee's work, Finches defies the linear world. While the play is set in a bedroomless apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, it also occupies a poetic space that has no real definition.

A master of metaphor and poetic articulation, Chafee has dug into "traumatic parts of her past" to create these rich characters, who resemble, to a degree, herself and her siblings. The process has been painful, she admits, but also enlightening. "In a Darwinian world, you better leave that stuff behind you," she says. "But in today's world, you better include that in your humanity, because it's not going to go away."

About The Author

Karen Macklin


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