Program Notes

Groundhog Day | A Note from the Artistic Director

Groundhog Day | A Note from the Artistic Director

Each season, we seek a show that will work well for the holidays. What kind of art do we need this time of year? For millennia, mankind has searched for hope in the dark of winter. In ancient cultures, humans didn’t know whether spring would ever arrive. There was a pervasive terror that if the gods did not favor us, they might even prevent spring from coming unless they were properly appeased. Early humans had nothing to rely on but prayer and faith.

Many of our mid-winter rituals spring from this origin. For Christians, the holy child is born in the dead of winter to give us hope. The ancient Greeks created the story of Persephone to explain the seasons. Today, we know spring will come and yet as Shakespeare’s Richard III said, “now is the winter of our discontent.” We struggle to see a way out of the messes we’ve made. We struggle to find hope and so we turn to stories to lift our spirits. The perennial chestnut, A Christmas Carol, is the most famous such vehicle of hope in which the irredeemable Scrooge is brought to redemption in time for Christmas. If such a curmudgeon can be saved, anyone can.

I was a huge fan of Groundhog Day the movie. This story of a man condemned to repeat the same day over and over till he gets it right really struck a chord with me. It was the myth of Sisyphus with a happy ending, a story of redemption very similar to A Christmas Carol, in which a total jerk and womanizing TV weather guy, sentenced to cover the Groundhog Day festival in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is miraculously redeemed. The deep magic of the groundhog forces him to live the same day over and over and over and over, forces him to look at the same men and women he pigeon-holes and stereotypes until eventually he sees through his projections to the real human beings beneath.

There is a wonderful symmetry represented by the title character, the groundhog. A lowly creature, likely to destroy your vegetable garden or your golf course, he nonetheless comes back every year, comes up out of his hole (at least in our mythical version) and reminds us that spring will come. Sooner or later. We can count on him. He gives us hope. Much as we count on our subscribers to come to every show and renew for the next season, our donors to renew their support year after year. In the dark of winter, the groundhog will signal spring. And we are comforted by the knowledge that if Scrooge or Phil are capable of change and growth, so are we all.

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Bill English is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of San Francisco Playhouse, and in twenty years with Susi Damilano, has guided its growth from a bare-bones storefront to the second-largest theater in San Francisco.

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