Saturday, November 21, 2015

My Favorite Line

Laying on a twin mattress covered in black theatre drapes behind the stage left risers after my death, I figured it out.

"What's your favorite line from the play?" my dad had asked me when he was here three weeks prior to see Into the Woods produced cooperatively with the Jewish Repertory Theatre and Trinity Street Players. I didn't have an answer. There's so many good ones:
  • Slotted spoons don't hold much soup.
  • I'll see you soon again, I hope that when I do it won't be on a plate.
  • That's another story, never mind.
  • And whichever you pick, do it quick cause you're starting to stick to the steps of the palace.
  • I was raised to be charming, not sincere.
  • I'm in the wrong story.
  • Princes wait there in the world, it's true. Princes, yes, but wolves and humans too.
  • You can talk to birds?
  • Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell.
  • It was a full day of eating for both.
  • No one cared when there was a dead giant in my back yard!
But none satisfied the question.

Additionally, at a bar one evening after the show, several actors and I were talking about, well, crap actors talk about: favorite musicals, upcoming auditions, the genius of Sondheim, our top fives, etc.

And one colleague made the comment that he isn't a huge fan of Into the Woods. I was aghast, shocked, defensive, and would have fired him on the spot, but we still had a week of performances left. Not to mention that in the wake of our Cinderella losing her voice voice (which gave rise to #Cinderunzel as Rapunzel has taken over singing the Cinderella role as the real Cinderella plays it physicality)... well, in the words of Cinderella, I couldn't fire the actor in my  beer-buzzed state because "I could not bear to lose another."

We bantered half-heartedly: he prefers slapstick and bawdy, and I prefer genius and genuine (my words, not his). But when he asked me why I liked Into the Woods so much... again, I didn't have an answer.

Fast forward to about 9:35pm in the middle of Act Two on Thursday night, and I begin my final ascent up the stairs to the stage left platform to finish The Last Midnight. "All right, mother, when? Lost the beans again! Punish me the way you did then - give me claws and a hunch, just away from this bunch and the gloom and the doom and the boom..." And then I project "Crunch!" as a high G, sustained, until the lights go to blackout and I can jump from the platform onto the mattress offstage and "die."

Photo by Rod Machen
I laid there calming my breathing and listening as the next scene began. I always stay there through the next song, and once the audience has forgotten about me over there, I exit.

That evening had been particularly powerful for me. I'm not sure why. Maybe I was tired from a week of broken computers, ailing actors, funerals, job changes, horrible terrorist attacks, racism cloaked in religion, or the bullshit Republican political agenda... so it felt normal to confess (admonish?) "the world is dark and wild."
But as I lay there, breathing quietly, and listening to the next scene, I heard it.
My favorite line, the point of why I love the show, all of it became clear.

"I thought you were dead," the Baker says to the Mysterious Man, his father.
"Not entirely. Are we ever?" he replies.

And I realized that was it.

This usually humorous line that plays at the redundancy of the Mysterious Man's character "When first I appear I seem deleterious... delirious... mysterious" many times the Man responds to inquiries of his appearance. He's always showing up at just the right time in the woods, guiding the characters, trying to lead but still hide, trying to right his wrongs. He's the father who "died in a baking accident" and left his son alone and then died again after ending the curse on his son's house.

And of course in Act Two the son learns again that his father's not dead... again.

"Are we ever?"

What I hated about Disney's movie Into the Woods released last Christmas was that they missed the point... of the whole musical. For me, Into the Woods has always been about storytelling. More than once I've sung, "Careful the things you say, children will listen," in a sermon. The curtain opens to a man narrating the show and closes on a man passing that story along to his son.

The brilliance of the piece is of course that there are so many more layers to that. With our director in this performance we explored Freudian themes and all the parent/child relationships. We played with the idea of a wintertime woods and what we learn about ourselves when we can't hide. We talked about what makes us who we are (what a prince would envision?) - ball gowns, beans, bread, babies? And what narratives do we attribute to one another? "I'm the hitch, I'm what no one believes - I'm the Witch." So, if "a wolf's not the same" is that because of him or because of me?

But breathlessly laying there listening to the scene begin and the beautiful "No More" song follow, I felt the tears slide down my face.

"Are we ever dead?"

No. Not with storytelling. Not with the memories of the moment. We never die. Not with the names called on All Saints Day and tea lights lit and the great cloud of witnesses. Images poured from my heart into my mind of Kyle as October marked the ten year anniversary of his death, and of Jane who I never stop remembering. The many "people" I've been myself in 37 years some played like a reel across my mind. Me's I've had to lay to rest or surprisingly discovered were still alive.

Even this play has resurrected itself for me. (I'll try and find a photo from the first time I played the Witch thirteen years ago).

And the story goes on. Whether we like the way it's being told or not. Between the moments and the mysteries and "all the wolves, all the lies, the false hopes, the goodbyes, the reverses," it keeps going.

"To mind, to heed, to find, to think, to teach, to join, to go to the festival"... the story goes on. And so do we.

Curtain. Blackout. House lights up.


Anonymous said...

As always, Ann--thoughtful and beautifully crafted!

Michael said...

Thanks. . . posting a link at CTXLiveTheatre. We need more reflection in theatre writing. MM

Unknown said...

(I didn't think I had any more tears surrounding this production...)

This is also my second time doing this show, and since I first heard the soundtrack, "No More" was always my least favorite song - in fact I often skipped it when playing the CD. But, you guessed it, by the end of this run it became my favorite song in the show. I told Michael the other night (actually I wrote it on a napkin at a bar) that it got better with every single performance. The beginning of the song ("no more questions, please") kept getting more and more stripped down and honest, and continued to break my heart, every time I saw it. On the final show, I sat offstage watching, holding the Baker's son with the tears silently streaming down my face.

Yes Ann, I would say you nailed it - what this show is truly about.

Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

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Unknown said...