If I Had My Way is about life: laughter, tears, music, pride and fear; strong women and willful men; longing and unrequited desires; family and home; the past, the future and the magic of citrus blossoms.
The play touches on the shared experiences of farm help, the children of enslavement (in its many forms) and people, often forced into warfare, who find themselves captured, put on ships and told to work during the day and live behind barbed wire at night.
Florida, 1945. A young woman, Margaret Perry, educated in the North, reluctantly returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing mother. Finding herself in the same ranch kitchen where her mother and grandmother toiled all their lives, she resents every aspect of her situation, rejecting friendship and suitors, until her abrasive and bitter attitude is broken by a person she considered invisible: the Italian POW, Piero Alloca, brought to the ranch as replacement help.
The four events of The Hayes Project might seem unrelated at first.I am taking the creation and evolution of the play through some winding steps from reading to final production.
But they're not.
The Project begins in December with an open reading of the script for IF I HAD MY WAY.
It takes a right angle into spoken word/jazz improvisation for JAZZ SPOKEN HERE, with myself and the jazz trio La Lucha, where we explore the rhythms behind the words.
In the spring comes THE MOCKINGBIRD NEWS , a one-person show with live percussion that explores aspects of stories, fables and lies in 5 short acts.
Finally, everything learned from those events will feed back to IF I HAD MY WAY, with a full production in June, 2022. Looking at the evolution of a play from seemingly unrelated angles is probably not something audiences or would-be playwrights would consider, and the addition of musical elements in decidedly non-musical plays often sparks new ideas for creating new works.
America is still in the grips of the War, not knowing Germany will surrender within months. A combined cattle operation and citrus grove in an unnamed Central Florida town (based on Kissimmee), the ranch is owned by Nathaniel and Alicia Jamison. At the time, Central Florida is the country's great seat of citrus and cattle ranching, long before the Texas longhorn exodus and theme parks took over the local tourism industry.
Eventually breaking down her resistance, Piero uses lessons learned in his own mother's kitchen to remind Margaret of the beauty of food, and teaches her to value things within her grasp. Meanwhile, the owner's son, Ty, involves himself in the uglier side of Florida life, full of hatred and the raging and violent influence of the then rampant Klan.
And then the citrus groves bloom, and during one magical, perfume-filled night, every relationship in the house changes.
Set in 1940s Florida, where the realities of WWII and its drain on local manpower meant a shortage of workers on local farms, a shortage addressed by the US Army by "lending" residents of area POW camps to fill the gap - Kissimmee Air Base was developed as an Italian detainee camp and became such a part of local community that POWs would often be seen shopping in downtown Kissimmee and even going to the movies.