Friday, March 2, 2012

And then there's clarity

I am well aware of the fact that I write and talk about plays a bit too much. But because stage performance means so much to me and because I saw a production of Rabbit Hole tonight, I'm going to try to defend myself for doing so by listing just a few of the reasons why I think going to see actors perform live is one of the best ways to spend an evening or an afternoon or a life.

1. Entrancement

You know that art is good if you get so distracted by it that you forget that the world exists. It can happen in any medium, really. I've had moments like that scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off where Cameron stares so intently at the very famous Georges Seurat painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, becoming entranced and seeming to forget when, what, where and who he is.

This has happened once or twice to me with physical art. Occasionally it has happened with books. Movies far outweigh the first two, but nothing compares to the feeling of being sucked into an amazing play. Because it is life-size, because it attracts all your senses, because it is usually made to resemble some form of realism, a play reflects back at you what real life feels like - on the periphery at least - and it's the most insanely gratifying feeling to disregard the world around you to watch a story play out in that way.

2. Relaxation.

Any good work of art is a soothing refuge when you decide to watch/hear it. Unless it has the explicitly opposite purpose - to cause its audience to react violently - the best thing about entertainment is that when you are consuming it, you are at ease. Even the troubles of the world you live in are gone for a moment.

Sometimes I get very restless in shows. It's really no testament to good or bad acting, or even whether the show is good or bad. It's just the problem of living in a technology-saturated and time-crunched society where sitting still can often seem like the enemy. But in some plays that feeling melts away. I no longer feel the tension of wanting to be somewhere else, wanting to do somewhere else. I saw Rabbit Hole tonight and by the time the first act was done, I found myself asking what time it was - not because I was interested in getting back to my room to do homework, but because I couldn't believe that an entire first half of a show had finished in so little time.

The show was short, admittedly, yet the fact that an hour passed while it felt like only 15 minutes had speaks to how the show had so enraptured me psychologically.

3. Reflection.

I've written primarily about the figurative concept of seeing plays - what watching actors perform on stage does for me in theory. But tonight, I recognized the manifestation of one of the other pillars of my theater experience: personal connection.

Rabbit Hole is about a young woman and her husband who have recently lost a young son after he was hit by a car while chasing his dog into the street. The story is incredibly heartbreaking and emotional, but coupled with a subtle comedy that really keeps the mood realistic.

Awkward silences came together with moments of clarity and humor, and in the end I felt like I had watched a window into the characters' lives, but through that window I was watching a mirror reflected back at me. I was forced to re-examine my own experiences in the context of the performance.

Loss can result in any number of conflicted feelings - primarily the battle of whether it is better to find and force yourself into companionship or to wallow and leave yourself in a pit of loneliness. In Rabbit Hole, both the mother and the father struggle with feelings of doubt: doubt that the other person is grieving properly, doubt that they'll ever find happiness again, doubt that they need help or doubt that they can help themselves.

No matter what the position, there is always a nagging feeling that something isn't right.

I've never lost a child myself, obviously. I've lost a mother, and I've dealt with pain in that respect. But if I can empathize from what I know of the parent-child relationship, I would not hesitate to say that the feeling of losing a son or daughter is traumatizing in a way that far exceeds the loss of a parent - if only because it was not inevitable.

When my mom passed away I dealt with a lot from my grandma. She would go from imploring me to spend time with her to keeping me at arm's length and not even returning my calls. The differences in our relationship were marked by huge fights - in which I would cower back and let her take the higher ground because she always felt so much more strongly about her own pain.

I used to complain - not to my grandma, but to others - that I had lost someone who meant a lot to me too. That she shouldn't alienate me because if anything, I'm the one person who can feel the same way she feels. I can give her the comfort of grieving by her side.

But I realized over time, and especially upon reflection while watching Rabbit Hole, that the kind of conflict I had after my mom passed away - the feelings of regret, the need to have her around, were selfish and superficial. I loved my mom infinitely, and I'm not suggesting otherwise. But I always knew she would not be around forever, and my main concern was that she wouldn't be around for me as long as I'd like. But my grandma, unlike I, was saddled with guilt that reached far beyond simple regret and need. She suffered from feelings of emptiness, of failure, of trauma, of emotions that don't even have names. I could even begin to imagine her place.

Plays, like Rabbit Hole, can really make you rethink your own decisions - whether they be mistreating the ones you love or just being generally, not-exactly-damagingly short-sighted. I learned both of those things and felt in a way for my grandmother that I never understood. I've always been afraid to breach the subject with her, afraid it would open flood gates. My grandma doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve like the characters in the play, so I had no way of analyzing her past the sudden outbursts of anger and fighting, and it made me shy away even more.

Watching Rabbit Hole, I realized that what my grandma needs is for me to sympathize and be open to help her. When I let her burst out and become angry, it ruins both of us. But maybe if we try to figure things out together we'll make a better outcome, a happier existence for both of us that isn't shadowed by mourning. It's my goal, at least.

I write about plays a lot. I write about how specific plays affect me. I write about how they have entertained me, taught me about performance and appreciation of art. But the real reason they mean so much to me is that they can make me think without over-thinking. While I am in a theater, I lose all sense of myself. But as I exit, I always seem to find a piece of myself - one that had been hiding for a long time, forever even. And in finding that piece, I gain more clarity about how I can help myself and those around me. If that's not one of the great experiences of life, I don't know what is.

No comments:

Post a Comment