Whose Play is this Anyways?

In a typical play (and usually also in not-so-typical plays) there’s a hero of some sort.  Not a super hero.  Not always someone we love but a hero nonetheless.  Some sort of main character whose story we are following.  It is from them the title stems: their life, an event in their life, their world, their name.

Sometimes, often times, you can bend the story to your whim.  Pick a new hero of sorts.  Sure, the play might be called Hamlet and we all know about Hamlet but what about that Claudius character?  Isn’t it really about him?  Maybe not, but if the director gets the right actor and plays her cards right, the audience may just leave the theatre thinking new things about the central actions of Claudius.

This past week, I went to two different plays.  Two. Very. Different. Plays.  Both named after the hero.  Sort of.  So I thought.  But then I go confused.

Jesus Christ Super Star.  The last time I saw this play (okay, Rock Opera), I was a kid.  I don’t know how old.  My mom took me because it’s one of her favorites.  They set it in a circus and told anyone in the audience they could come sit in the bleachers on stage that surrounded the circus ring.  Of course I made my mom go sit on stage with me.  So we watched half of it from the back.  I was in heaven.  I don’t remember a thing about the story but I do remember striped pants.

I took my daughter to see the final dress rehearsal of the local production of JCSS because her best friend is in it: one of a small group of young kids who come on for one number and then are never seen again.  It’s a cute moment.  They all come on with the grown-ups who are bearing Jesus on their shoulders, he blesses them and then they all go back stage and hang out until curtain call.  They sang their little hearts out and did just swell.

My daughter didn’t really know what was going on most of the time.  I tried to halfheartedly whisper-explain but I was also a little lost.  The cast did their best but the acoustics in the local 100-year-old-New-England-opera-house (You know what I’m talking about.  Every other New England Town has one.  They’re cold in the winter, hot in the summer, always need a paint job, and you’re lucky if the stage has any wing space) are terrible.  The singers, un-mic’d, were competing with amplified electronified music in a hall with lousy acoustics.  It was pretty hard to decipher their sung words except in the repeated choruses which gave you more than one shot to figure it out.  So I wracked my brains for the various bible stories in my head, we did our best to follow along, and my daughter had a great time.

Don’t worry, I’m getting to my point:

Judas got the final bow.  Not Jesus.

Caught me completely off-guard.  Yeah, he definitely had the cooler songs to sing and he sure was on-stage a lot, but the play is called Jesus Christ Super Star for a reason, right?  And as it was staged, Jesus was always in the spotlight, never in the periphery of the story.  I had to think about that one for a while…

A few days later I went to The Merchant of Venice.  This one I actually got to see more than once because I stood in for an actress during their final dress, watched one of their runs, and then stood in for a different actress during a matinee.  But it wasn’t until the second time that it dawned on me that there are two Merchants in the play.  Both Antonio and Shylock.  Maybe everyone who studies the play figures that out pretty quickly, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually studied the play seriously.

The only reason i figured it out is because the director put both men on stage together while not performing in a scripted scene forcing me see their relationship to the story: this is a story about people and how business transactions can go wrong.  This is a story of two merchants and the people around them.  These two merchants are in far fewer scenes than the lovers, but without the merchants, the lovers wouldn’t have a story to tell.  And neither merchant, either the one who loses all his goods, or the one who is gifted his back, gets love.  Neither one walks away with a full heart.  But all the lovers do.  How sad to be a Merchant.*

Made me think back a dozen or so years to The Importance of Being Earnest.  In one of our last rehearsals, the director brought up the title for the first time and related it to the Ernest in the play at which point I remarked that the title did not refer to the character “Ernest” but to the action of being “Earnest.”  Yes, it’s a play on words just as Wilde intended but the truth of it is, the title is not “The Importance of Being Ernest.”  It’s not about how important it is for this man to exist; it’s about honesty.  But, of course, the director had been directing this show all along thinking that it referred to the man, not the action.  I didn’t watch the play, being that I was in it.  But now I wonder if the audience knew it’s a play about honesty, or if they figured it’s just a play about a man whose name happens to rhyme with a word that used to mean honesty.

The author may write the words, but the director helps us understand the story and if she isn’t careful, we won’t be able to tell whose story she’s chosen to tell.

I Cry Tears of Fear

On Monday, April 15, a state holiday, I went to work.  I went to work so I could take the rest of school vacation week off and spend it with my child.  I logged on to Facebook a few times during the day for kicks during breaks.  But by early afternoon I was crunching to get work done so I could leave.  So I didn’t hear the news until I turned on the radio for my drive home.  I promptly started to cry and spoke out loud to my empty car, “what is going on? why is this happening? how could this stuff happen?”

And then I stuck my head in the sand because I couldn’t handle not having answers to questions I don’t want to ask.  And I needed to be tear-free to drive home to my child.  I needed to be home with my child.

When I got home, I took my head out long enough to text a friend and find out if she was okay.  By bedtime, I had vicariously determined that everyone I personally know in Boston is unharmed.  But I did not read the news, listen to the news, watch the news, or digest news in any form.

The next day, back at work, my colleague casually said her husband had been called out, of course.  He’s on the SWAT team.  And although we’re two hours outside of Boston, everyone was on high alert.  I didn’t respond.  I couldn’t respond.  I shrugged and buried my head even deeper.  Willing the sand to fill my ears as I breathed in the filtered salty air beneath.

It’s Friday night.  I have spent an oblivious three days with my child.  Beautiful vacation days with gardening and giggling, rolling in grass, and getting dirt under our finger nails.  Silly dances in the kitchen, stuffed animal circuses, salty snacks, and ice cream.  The comfort of this little rural city that I love so much.

And then i went on Facebook and my oblivion has been shattered.  I feel sick to my stomach.  My friends are in Boston, Waltham, Watertown, Stoneham, Newton.  You name the Boston area town and I’ve got a friend there.  One post led to another article which led to another picture.  Pictures you have all looked at since Monday but I have dutifully ignored.  So I cry tears of fear for you.  Tears for your terrifying nights, your amputated limbs, your broken hearts, and your lost lives.  Guilty tears of relief that I live out here.  I live out here.  Where horses graze in pasture ten minutes from my home, where I never walk to town without seeing someone I know, where my child wanders free on a street full of neighbors who know her name, know her mother, and know to keep her safe.  I cry guilty tears of relief that we are okay.  I cry tears of fear that the the world is just too big and just too close for all of us to be okay.

May my tears bring breath.  May my breath bring peace.  May peace bring heart.  May heart bring listening.  May listening bring generosity.

Light & Life

When I was a child, I went to an elementary school with arts-inspired curriculum.  It was the 80’s, the concept of supporting the whole child in education was new, but all those hippies had to educate their kids some place. Our holiday celebration was not the re-telling of of the birth of Christ, but was much more and inspiringly called Light & Life.

I don’t remember much about these annual shindigs other than an abundance of candles and twinkling lights.  However, I do remember the mission: to celebrate light in a time of darkness.  To celebrate life when the world feels dead.  Light & Life.

This afternoon I went to my child’s Holiday All-School.  The school is much like the one of my own youth but better because we know more about educating the whole child.  It is filled with the children of children of hippies who walk alongside hipster kids’ kids, preppy gals children, and all sorts of named cultures, non-cultures, and in-betweens.  We’ve got it all.  And, together,  we lit a candle.

As the Head of School took the candle from the hands of a child, lit it, and sent peace to the world…I took a deep breath in and silently thanked the universe for keeping my child safe.  I silently thanked the universe that I no longer live next door to Newtown, where my high school has been contemplating how to do a lock down on a multi-building campus, where my oldest friends have had to watch funeral processions slide by with tiny caskets.  And I silently sent my love to anyone who might need it.  Anywhere.

Do not joke about a mythical Mayan Apocalypse when worlds are ending every day.  Please.  It offends my heart.

Instead let us spend solstice celebrating the light the gleams through darkness, the life that goes on living whether we want it to or not, and the chance to make amends, make change, make life, make light, and continue on.  Let us celebrate the lengthening of days and the turning of the earth.  Let us recognize the joy in small things and set aside our paltry love affairs with useless worries and imagined emergencies.  Let us celebrate Light & Life.


May you always love you


To all the moms who complimented my daughter’s first haircut at four and whose eyes widened in delighted horror when I admitted she did it herself with her little scissors–with my knowledge and blessing.  To all the strangers who tell me my child has the best outfits and who quickly find out she puts them together herself.  To all my girlfriends who I love: be you as you want to be because I love you that way.  To my daughter who still does her hair and outfits the way she pleases but who, now that she is six and vaguely self-aware,  slyly looks around to see who notices: may you always posses yourself as you and express yourself as such.  You don’t need to make sure anyone notices.  They do.  And they love you for it.  Trust me.

When Jada Pinkett-Smith was asked why she let her daughter Willow shave her head, this is what she said:

“This subject is old but I have never answered it in its entirety. And even with this post it will remain incomplete.

The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power, or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit, and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes, and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.

She is Fierce

“…though she be but little, she is fierce.” – Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

My daughter and I say this to each other sometimes.  To remind each that we are fierce.

I say it to myself now, at 3am, finally done with my very long work day.

I repeat the word, Fierce, to myself in the car.  What is this word?  Fierce.

I’m adopting it as mine.