THE STORY: Liz Barnard is an anthropologist studying West Coast gangs for behavior similar to African tribes. Her son, Don, is a homosexual Episcopal minister whose parishioners are poor and many sick with AIDS. Liz’s daughter, Barbara, is a gifted sculptress whose current breakthrough show launches a stellar career. Barbara lives with Ian, a brilliant young astronomer and popular university professor who, along with his colorful colleague Mickey, stumbles upon a spectacular discovery at the edge of the galaxy. They want to study the find further, but the chairman of their department, Carl Conklin White, a by-the-book administrator, snatches up this startling find before all the facts are in. Along with this discovery, Ian and Barbara find that despite all precautions, Barbara is pregnant. Having agreed to no children, Barbara prepares for an abortion, but Ian wants to hold off as he has new thoughts about children and carrying on the human race. The mysteries of the universe and of human and artistic creation begin to mix for Ian and his friends. But when Barbara has the abortion, Ian becomes a person he never expected, and in front of friends and family, he attacks Barbara. His actions change everyone around him, mirroring the change in life when discovery leads the way.
Winner of the 1997 Obie Award for best play. “Lanford Wilson’s idiosyncratic SYMPATHETIC MAGIC is his best play yet…the rare play you WANT…chock-full of ideas, incidents, witty or poetic lines, scientific and philosophical argument…you’ll find your intellectual faculties racing.” —NY Magazine. “The mystery of the unexplored universe and the mystery of artistic creation begin to re-volve around the more familiar mystery of life on earth and why we keep reproducing it. She does something unwise, he does something unforgivable. The result changes them and everyone in their intimate circle, irrevocably. The play ends where it started, with the scientist lecturing about the inexplicable nature of the universe and the “dark matter” of which it seems to be largely composed; only now we’ve experienced what he means. Wilson has made the dark matter in human beings tangible; particularly in the scientist, whom we come to like and understand before he does something monstrous, and who re-mains understandable—and no monster—afterwards. The script is like a fully notated score, next to which most new plays are cursory lead sheets.” —Village Voice