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Playwright tries to focus in a distracted world

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Planting Shelly Anne
John Riedlinger and Carolyn Pool in a scene from "Planting Shelly Anne," a story about one woman's attempt to get the world to stop moving at such a crazy pace.
Photo by Kevin McLaughlin

Playwright Jeanine Coulombe has become convinced that we are now living in a world suffering from attention deficit disorder. 

"As an example, last night at 2 a.m. I realized that my husband's Blackberry was rattling because there was an e-mail coming through," laughed Coulombe. "Everything thinks that they can get us 24 hours a day. We seem to be able to be connected to everyone through Facebook, but are we actually connecting to the people that we love and that we're closest to?"

Playwright Jeanine Coulombe
Playwright Jeanine Coulombe was inspired by the birth of her daughter and her worries for child's future to write "Planting Shelly Anne," a story about one woman's attempt to stay focused on what's important amidst a world of distractions.
Photo by Kevin McLaughlin

"Planting Shelly Anne" is Coulombe's response to an increasingly hectic world. 

Shelly Anne, wife and mother, is trying to get things checked off her to-do list -- simple things like laundry and cleaning house. But she keeps getting distracted by both the news of the day and characters she's created in her mind. 

Coulombe says Shelly Anne's preoccupation with global issues belies a simpler tragedy closer to home.

"The melting polar ice caps is in a lot of ways just the metaphor for relationships that are breaking down and falling apart," said Coulombe.

Coulombe says ultimately her play is about sustainability. Is life sustainable if we are constantly demanded to multitask? Are our relationships sustainable? 

"We seem to be able to be connected to everyone through Facebook, but are we actually connecting to the people that we love and that we're closest to?"

Carolyn Pool plays the part of Shelly Anne. She says she can easily relate to the character.  She says Shelly Anne's worries about the world bleed into her worries about taking care of her family.

"While she's thinking about things like, 'I have to mop, I have to vacuum, I have to get dinner on the table,' she's also thinking, 'Oh my God. The polar ice caps are melting, there's terrorism, there's corrupt governments,'" said Pool. "So the to-do list is becoming the anxiety list." 

Shelly Anne's anxiety spirals out of control, until all she wants to do is make the world stop turning at such a relentless pace. She has so much on her mind that she can't even hear what her daughter is saying to her. 

Jeanine Coulombe says this is the first full-length play she's written since giving birth to her own daughter two years ago, and in many ways it expresses her own concerns as a mother. 

Coulombe is a member of the Workhaus Collective, a group of playwrights who collaborate to stage each other's work. Co-founder Dominic Orlando says the play's distinct voice is emblematic of the work the collective strives to produce.

"If you look back at the eccentricity and uniqueness of all the productions," said Orlando, "that's what we're trying to do, so the writer's voice comes through clearly. So all the productions are fairly different."

Jeanine Coulombe says the play is called "Planting Shelly Anne" because one of the items on Shelly Anne's to-do list is to plant tulips. It's her attempt to move beyond taking care of just today, and lay the groundwork for a better, more beautiful future for her family.

"Planting Shelly Anne" opens Saturday and runs through Feb. 14 at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis.