Moral dilemmas ignite new drama, "Paris Time," at Capital Repertory Theatre
In a recent telephone interview, he said that living in Paris for two years in 2002-2003 helped shape his play "Paris Time." However, he claims that current events throughout the world give the work its focus. Indeed, the fact that the play is set in real time shows how the problem of anti-Semitism has increased over the years.
"Paris Time" — which was discovered last year at Capital Repertory Theatre's Next Act Play Summit —
is being given its world premiere at the downtown Albany theater, where it officially opens Wednesday after a series of previews that begin Friday. The drama addresses anti-Semitism in France, but Peterson readily admits the concept is about how outsiders are being treated with fear, suspicion and intolerance in almost every country throughout the world — including the United States.
He describes the city of Paris as we all wish it to be. "It's a wonderful place. It's filled with great restaurants and entertainments. Culturally, it's magnificent. Fine art, music, opera and theater are abundant. I loved living in Paris."
As the length of his stay increased however, he realized all was not as serene as it seemed. "I couldn't help but notice the increase in anti-Semitic violence that was taking place," he said. "I'm not Jewish, but perhaps being raised in a culturally diverse city like Chicago made me more aware of the problem. I kept thinking there is a story to tell here."
As a storyteller, initially he struggled. "To make the play more universal, I had to find the personal within the issue of anti-Semitism," he said. "I created a situation where Deborah, the wife of (an) American corporate executive, becomes an activist in defending a young Jewish Frenchwoman. The policy of the company that Charles works for states he cannot become politically involved with France's politics. If his wife doesn't stop her involvement it could cost him his career."
He continues his thought, saying, "Clearly, Charles is facing a real dilemma. He might lose his job, his marriage or both."
Peterson stops for a second or two, as if thinking about what he wants to say. Eventually he says, with some force, "The point of the entire play is to ask, `What are you willing to do to stand up to injustice? What are you willing to sacrifice? Talk about it all you want, but ask what are you prepared to do?'"
One of the prices to be paid in "Paris Time" could be a marriage. "As an expat who was on the road around the world for many years I know first-hand the pressures living abroad can put on a marriage," Peterson said. "Here's a guy who has to try to get his wife to relinquish her passion. Deborah, as well as Charles, learns the limits of their power."
Peterson says the issue is more complicated than someone standing up to his boss. He points out that when Charles took the job, he knew the conditions of employment. "What do you do if your employer is not the moral force you expect?" he questions.
This dynamic opens the door for the play to examine corporate politics. "I met many different types of executives and the ones that intrigued me most were those who loved power and used it to throw their weight around," Peterson said. "As a theatergoer, I rarely see this type of person portrayed accurately on stage. Usually they come off sort of cartoonish, but in reality they can be very sinister."
Peterson has had his own personal experiences with corporate power. Seven years ago the company in which he was a partner, Hewitt Associates, was bought out. "No one buys a company and keeps the management team together," he laughs. "It was clear they want the old-timers to go. Fortunately I was 55 at the time and could take my pension."
Fortunately too, he has a supportive wife who encouraged him to follow his dream of becoming a playwright. In the past seven years Peterson has had four full-length plays produced and published and has had numerous one-act plays performed throughout the country. He's won the Julie Harris Playwright's Award twice and is a member of Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists.
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