Monday, May 26, 2008

Timeless, are these tales and emotions

I'm still processing the experience of seeing Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, again with my daughter as Cinderella.

Having already reviewed the level of confliction I was feeling as I watched the video snippets I captured during the performance, I can now move on to what I have learned.

Over the course of the musical, the characters, or many of them (the ones not dead by the finale), grow as a result of their experiences. Naturally, I tended to focus on Cinderella.

In the opening of the piece, Cinderella sings, "I wish to go to the festival...and the ball!" as she scrubs the floor in her stepmother's house. That short phrase, "I wish," underlies much of what progresses for all the characters, not just Cinderella.

In Cinderella's case, the story progresses just as the Grimm tale does, with Cinderella pursued by the prince, finally wooed and won, and, at the end of Act I, living happily ever after.

Sondheim, being even more powerful than 'happily ever after', deems it necessary to have an Act II, wherein there is much death and destruction. Amongst all of it is the destruction of Cinderella's trust in her prince, as she comes to know of his infidelity.

As he points out, he was raised to be charming, not sincere. And, his charm is readily available to any unsheltered lass in the kingdom. He may not have been at the fore when it was time to battle the giant, but he never missed a chance to be with the ladies.

All of this is but precursor and introduction to what I find to be the most poignant moment of the entire play. It is a moment which most miss, as it takes only two seconds to occur, and can be hard to hear because of the orchestra.

Very near the end, Cinderella sings to Little Red Riding Hood, even as the baker also advises Jack (of beanstalk fame) in song. Red Riding Hood, at one point, sings only "I wish..." to which the world-weary Cinderella responds, "I know." You can see my video of this moment here.

Cinderella, she of the first wishes in the show, ends with the knowledge that wishes coming true are not necessarily the perfect ending. And, she learns never, ever to appear in Act II again.

Still, only a few minutes later, Cinderella has regained enough of her optimism to have the very last word. It is she who sings, "I wish..." as the finale concludes. That moment is captured in the second video of the post referenced above.

My take on this is simple: we learn, we grow wise and perhaps toughened, but we can regain our naiveté, our childlike belief in inevitable good outcome, our boundless enthusiasm and baseless optimism. And, why should we not? This is not a journey we begin with any hope of coming out alive in the end. Why not pretend, all the way through, that we can do great things and love like there is no tomorrow? It is both the folly and the majesty of human beings that we can do this, even with full knowledge of the eventual futility of it all.

Sondheim ended too soon. I'm on to writing my own Act III, and I'm barely able to complete each page before the actors are on stage performing it. I love writing it, directing it, and playing the lead. And I love the immediacy, the intimacy, the insanity.

Life. It's like a hot dog: relish it.


Olivia said...

I am reminded of Lori-Lyn's post this week about the importance of fiction. Stories have a life-changing power. Whole cultures (such as the Hawaiian culture) are based upon story.

I agree, Rick, that we have to retain that child-like innocence and joy, all the while knowing that things may not (or will not) turn out as we hope. This play sounds like it illustrated aspects of this so well.

Your processing has been rich, hasn't it?!?!

Peace and rest and joy,



Rick Hamrick said...

I'll definitely check out Lori-Lyn's post, O. Thanks for the referral.

You are correct that I have found the last few days both powerfully educational and emotional.

Nothing like feeding the geek and the poet with one experience.

Thanks, as always, for your kind and insightful comments, Olivia!