We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman: ‘There are so many lives ahead of us all’

Cover image for We Play Ourselves by Jen SilvermanI’d not come across Jen Silverman’s name before We Play Ourselves arrived. She’s a playwright which left me wondering how much of herself was in this novel about a woman in her thirties, suddenly in the glare of publicity after a decade of putting on plays in obscure New York venues, whose star plummets as quickly as it rises.

Another French bulldog saunters past. It gives me a languid, scornful stare. It knows I can’t even get my agent on the phone  

Cas has fled New York for Los Angeles in the wake of a scandal that has rocked the theatrical world. Holed up with her friend Dylan, himself facing the departure of his beloved partner, she’s desperate for something to take her mind off her nemesis, Tara-Jane Slater. Like Cas, Tara-Jane is one of three winners of a prestigious award for young playwrights which resulted in Broadway plays for both of them but whereas Cas’ opening night was met with a bad notice that sealed her fate, Tara-Jane’s ticked all the right boxes. Cas found herself dragged into an obsession which culminated in a very public act. Now in disgrace, her career in ruins, she’s buried herself as far away from theatre as she can get. Los Angeles is film land where everyone is an actor, director or screenwriter, including her neighbour Caroline who tells Cas about her current project: a feminist version of Fight Club about a group of young women who spontaneously lay into each other. Increasingly involved in the making of the film, Cas becomes uncomfortable about Caroline’s version of the truth. How much of her movie is scripted? Who are these young women who seem conveniently diverse in their backgrounds?

Remember it’s just theatre. No one died  

Silverman tells her story in Cas’ wryly witty voice, flipping back and forth between New York and Los Angeles as she inches towards the revelation of what has driven her to flee to the other side of the country. Cas is an engaging narrator, both funny and vulnerable. The New York theatre world is smartly satirised, the precariousness of fame painfully conveyed – one bad review and your career’s scuppered, your agent no longer takes your calls and your head is filled with self hate. Silverman also asks serious questions about filmmaking. Caroline’s motives in making her ‘documentary’ are distinctly dubious, her film shaped by what the backers want to see, and the girls seem more interested in fame than truth. A thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining yet serious novel which left me wanting to explore Silverman’s short stories. It turns out she was also a writer for Netflix’ Tales of the City which I may well check out.

Atlantic Books: London 9781838954307 336 pages Hardback

8 thoughts on “We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman: ‘There are so many lives ahead of us all’”

  1. Makes me think of Drabble’s early novel about young women and the theatre! There are two series of Tales in the City, JSYK, one carrying on from the other, at least two decades between them; I don’t know how one tells them apart, as I think they have the same title (because the characters continue).

    1. I remember one shown over here with Oympia Dukakis cast as Mrs Madrigal, which seemed as smart a piece of casting as Frances McDormand playing Olive Kitteridge but other than that, I wasn’t very impressed having loved the books.

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