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W. Philip Rafferty

The Lanford Wilson Project: “The Mound Builders” & “Sympathetic Magic”

December 9, 2021

It appears that the later play was modeled on the earlier one though it may not have been noticed back in 1997 when "Sympathetic Magic" had its New York premiere. Both plays deal with discoveries by scientists: archeologists in "The Mound Builders" looking in the earth and astronomers in "Sympathetic Magic" examining the sky. The themes of both are about ethics in science, in "The Mound Builders" science versus commerce, and in "Sympathetic Magic" science versus fame. Both include a pair of brothers and sisters, and one parent of each is of vital importance, though not seen in both plays. A woman artist appears in each: a famous blocked novelist in "The Mound Builders" and a quickly rising sculptress in "Sympathetic Magic." Each drama has a newly announced pregnancy that is paralleled with the new scientific discovery. Both are ensemble plays dealing with a tightly knit group of people affiliated with a university department. In each a project ends disastrously, as well as a relationship breaks up for differing reasons.  The academic world intrudes on both plots as the scientists are professors at their respective institutions. [more]