Talking back to Ira Glass
Taking pains to be neighborly: Julie Ganey presents “Love Thy Neighbor. . .Til It Hurts.”
Updated: July 4, 2012 5:04PM
There’s no place like home, especially when you’re listening to someone on the radio run it down publicly.
Julie Ganey, a writer, performer and teacher who has been active in Chicago theater for 25 years, recalls how excited she was when she realized, while listening three years ago to a “This American Life” program entitled “Scenes from a Recession,” that Ira Glass and community organizer Brian White were discussing her Rogers Park neighborhood.
And how her excitement changed to consternation when the things they were saying began to sink in.
You can hear about her reaction in detail, and her own thoughts about her diverse, complex, occasionally frustrating yet well-loved neighborhood, when Ganey performs her one-woman show “Love Thy Neighbor ... Till It Hurts” July 5 to 14 at 16th Street Theater in Berwyn.
“There I was, standing in my kitchen, amazed to hear that they had pulled up in a car at Touhy and Rogers, which is very close to me,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! They’re right outside my house!’
“But then they started talking about how the recession had hit the neighborhood and they started calling out: ‘Look at that building, it’s really dilapidated; look there’s a building in foreclosure. And Brian White said, ‘Obviously, if you have a luxury dollar to spend, you’re not going to spend it in Rogers Park.’ ”
Ganey takes pains to emphasize that she really has no problem with what Glass and White said on the show, and that she considers it all to be fair and accurate in the context of their discussion of what happens when developers try to build luxury condos in non-luxury neighborhoods. But she also says that had no effect on her immediate reaction:
“In that moment, I just
felt all the blood draining from my face,” she said, laughing at the memory. “I thought, ‘Why is Ira Glass saying mean things about my neighborhood? And not just my neighborhood, my block.’ ”
At first, Ganey told this story to friends, just as an amusing anecdote. Eventually, though, she began to realize it lent itself to an ongoing project she had been developing, as she collected stories about her family’s efforts to fit into a neighborhood where everyone is not white and middle class — and where there are many different ideas about what makes for a good neighbor.
“I kept thinking there was a different story to tell about Rogers Park that’s more interesting and more important,” she said.
Borrowing the four-act structure of “This American Life” and using her story about listening to “Scenes from a Recession” as a framing device, Ganey debuted “Love Thy Neighbor” last July at the annual Filet of Solo solo-performance fest at Lifeline Theatre.
Sun-Times theater reviewer Hedy Weiss praised it as “curative storytelling,” a “bristling, thoughtful, heartfelt” response that served as “a welcome rebuke to Glass’s stylish negativity.”
Ganey herself is less hard on Glass (“I love his show, especially since I’m a storyteller”), and she’s quick to point out that it took her quite a while to sort out her own attitudes about her neighborhood after she and her husband bought their Rogers Park home eight years ago. That process, she says, is what “Love Thy Neighbor” is really about.
“It seems to me that learning to define community differently is becoming an increasingly universal experience,” she said. “It used to be, in this country, that we lived around people of our own kind. Now many of us are caught up in quickly changing, increasingly diverse communities.
“There are so many advantages to that. But it can also be a bit uncomfortable. And complicated. The process of creating this show made me realize that my norms, my assumptions about what neighborly behavior should be, are probably — definitely — at least as irritating to other people as theirs might be to me.
“So the question becomes: How do we forge communities in this new situation we find ourselves in?”