COLUMBIA, S.C.: Imagine you’re at a family gathering. You can see and hear everyone, but to them you’re invisible; you can’t influence the course of events. The vivid details of taste, touch, smell—the aroma of cinnamon buns, the wafting pine of the Christmas tree—are real to them, but exist for you only in your imagination.
All of this will be true, of course, for the patrons behind the fourth wall at Eugenie Carabatsos’s Pine, running at South Carolina’s Trustus Theatre Aug. 2–10. But it is also true for one of her characters. Since the car accident that claimed his life, Colin White lingers as little more than a supernatural audience member observing the continuing lives of his family and his fiancée.
But are they entirely beyond Colin’s reach? The play pivots on the answer to this question. “I find it exciting to watch ghosts onstage,” says Carabatsos. “Ghosts can connect the audience to the play.” A 2010 Wesleyan University graduate, she secured this first major production of her work as part of Trustus’s annual playwriting prize. (Playwrights Stephen Belber, Andrea Lepcio and Jon Tuttle are among the previous winners of the 24-years-running competition.)
Carabatsos says she learned a lot about how her play worked during a 2013 developmental staging at Orlando, Fla.’s Playwrights’ Round Table. For one thing, though Pine dwells in the shadow of death, “I learned the strength of the play really lies in its comedic moments.”
Indeed, when the sarcasm-prone White family convenes in upstate New York for the holidays, even the spectral Colin maintains his sense of humor. His sense of smell, however—that’s a loss he mourns. “I associate smell with memory,” muses Carabatsos. “I think I would miss smell a lot. It’s very emotional.”