As we move toward a production here in Los Angeles I wanted to write up an analysis into the deeper themes of this piece. I don’t think I was fully in touch with what story we were telling when we wrote it a year ago. Now, with some distance, I’ve gotten my head around it a bit better. For those curious, here is the trailer and the full production staged in Portland last fall.
Set in present day Los Angeles, the story follows Meredith, a frustrated screenwriter who meets Macario, an undocumented landscaper and gardener. They discover an unlikely kinship as they cultivate a garden together. But this friendship is misunderstood, leading to a rash decision with devastating consequences.
Overtly the narrative is about regret, however, beneath this theme runs a sense of disenfranchisement and isolation. Macario exists on the margins as an undocumented person and Meredith is lost in a life of shallow modernity. She never developed the tools she needed to know herself and now, as she approaches midlife, she’s desperate to find meaning.
She believes it’s a matter of just returning to her original goals. She makes the mistake most Americans make, that we are defined by the form and even substance of our work. She dreams of being a novelist and poet thinking it will make her happy.
Macario, who is from a fictional South American country, teaches her to find meaning in living itself. The garden they work together then becomes a larger metaphor for simply being, as the plants are, in the moment. For his part, initially the garden becomes a place where he can forget the terrible secrets of his past that have kept him running. He lives half a life in America. He feels like a sub-person here even as he is treated as one.
Then, as the story evolves, it is the garden where he rediscovers his whole self again.
In these ways the garden mentors them both.
The two never form a romantic attachment. This is one of the things that makes this story unique. Meredith is a whole person struggling not to find meaning in love, but to find it in herself. Free from the Latin lover stereotype, Macario is not defined by seduction – instead he finds his identity as he remembers his wife and children back home.
The Place Where You Started was given a workshop production last fall by Portland State University Opera. Opening on November 12th, 2016, the opera ran for six performances. Portland was home to the most violent protests in America that week, the week of the 2016 Presidential election. In the midst of the chaos the singers felt the work had a kind of renewed meaning. One cast member described it this way, “I just didn’t know what to do, but when I stepped out onto the stage I knew that this was it. This is what I was supposed to do. Tell this story, right now because it means something more than it did before the election.”
Any new work should offer a gathering place for people who perhaps don’t have access to, or reason for attending new works. We envision dual supertitles in English and Spanish in order to attract and serve the vast Spanish speaking population in L.A. who may not feel a new work, particularly opera, is relevant to their lives.
In addition to the Portland State University Opera Department production of The Place Where You Started, the opera was subsequently performed in multiple venues around Shanghai, China. PLACE has a cast of six singers and is being revised and scored for a small ensemble of six instrumentalists (Pierrot plus percussion).