Sunday, December 27, 2009

Romeo and Juliet

This is a review I wrote for a play this past October. It was a fun event and a fun review to write, so I thought I'd share it.


I had planned this out for months. I first heard about the production of this play at the beginning of the semester and it went in my planner immediately. In the past few weeks I had attempted to get some of the girls from my floor to go with me... to no avail. That left me last minute calling my friend Ben to join me as I attended a freezing, two hour long production of "Romeo and Juliet". Fun? He wasn't convinced but I was ready. Armed with sandwich, caramel apple cider, and blanket, I marched through a blustery October evening to stand in a short line half an hour before the start of the show. I was enjoying the charade of sorts that I was participating in. It was almost a play in and of itself before the real production even began. I was snug and bundled, warm coat, purple scarf, and brown wool beret perched on my head for warmth. The buildings that surrounded the lawn cut off the main wind gusts, keeping it tolerable. I found a seat (though I later regretted this decision to not sit on the grass) about five rows back toward the left of the seating area. I read a book as people milled around and came from all directions. We could see our breaths and everyone was quietly talking as we found places under an autumn sunset. I heard an older man, who looked to be a penn state alumnus, comment that it was almost like waiting for a football game. "Let's start counter cheers! Montagues! Capulets! Montagues! Capulets!" Those around him chuckled appreciatively. Then came the appropriately formal and awkward "big name" theatre people ready to introduce and remind us of their part in tonight's show. They were quickly forgotten aside from their charming blunders in forgetting each other's names. We were not really interested. There was something else coming. Anticipation was building. And the show began.

Words fail to express what it means to be caught up in a story, when drama comes alive in such a way that... the only word that seems to work is "magical" and that has been falsely co-opted by Disney and brutally marketed to within an inch of its life. But take then your mind to the outdoor setting of the Alumni Family Center: the grass slope running towards a constructed stage in the corner of a garden walk and a Pennsylvania Stone Farm House. Trellises built up to the windows. Lighting that expertly crafted the outdoor lights of day and night and the indoor moods of parties and bedrooms. But more than this, there is a sky arching above your head. It is light and then fading into darkness as a physical marker of the rising action. There is the chill air, constantly keeping you tied to the living and the present, and entranced with the antics and tragedy presented to you. There are the sounds and movements of the other people, entranced with you so you hardly notice them beyond being one with them. There is a unity to this place, of time and setting, harkening back to the days before we knew how to craft the outdoors too well indoors, and had to be in it to justify the discussion of trees and sky and railing against the stars, as Romeo cries aloud and falls to his knees doing.

And this setting, this harkening back to the birth of theatre, in open amphitheatres and dramatic expressions, ritual of love and youth incarnate, married to the technology and evocative, familiar, and realistic acting and stage craft, all came from a director's vision and into my understanding. Yes, my understanding. For the first time, I understood Romeo and Juliet.

"Romeo and Juliet" has been done before, in case you were unaware. It is the most overdone piece of high school literature there is. It was overdone by the time I got to middle school. I could pick out fractured, elitist references a mile away. And I knew the plot too. My middle school self set me on the definitive course of "Hate sappiness. Reject first time love. Suicide for love is stupid." I have maintained that course. I have enjoyed the mockeries of such passion and laughed at its retellings whether in comedic balcony reconstructions of my own or in "West Side Story". But here, a different hand was at work. I read in the program that this version was ultimately about the young searching for identity and suddenly finding it in each other. The subtle undercurrent, this primary tension and subtext, ran through the production but did not seem to be such a difference until the moment when Mercutio died in the meaningless battle in the street. Suddenly, the romantic comedy turned into tragedy and all the playfulness that had marked the balcony scene (that we've all wanted to realized in our romantic subconscious!) ran its faithful course into the intensity of banishment, separation, and death. I had been wooed and won by the lighthearted romance. I had seen them come alive under the intoxication of love, finding fullness in it. This meant that I walked open eyed, open mouthed, broken hearted into the tragedy. I was fully present in the heartbreak and completely understood their actions and choices, even to the moment when Romeo drinks the poison over the Juliet's living body.

This takes no little strength in acting, setting, and director's vision. Oh well done! I wept and shivered and quietly moaned my warnings. The audience held their breaths and yet the story concluded, as we knew it would. There was nothing we could do, but for the first time, perhaps for more than a few, it was something that we cared about. The story drew together the audience in the fear and knowledge of what would happen. Even as it grew colder, and blankets were wrapped around strangers, and we took to fidgeting to keep in connection with our toes and fingers, we were wrapped in the essence of the story and the importance of what was to happen. And it was terrible and magical.




I almost didn't believe it when the actors returned to the stage for the applause and standing ovation from the 642 audience members. Romeo and Juliet had died. I did not believe that Gilbert and Leah (the leading actors) could still exist. I almost laughed in delight at my own slight confusion. The vision was lifting and shifting, the cares I had forgotten (responsibilities back at my residence hall) returned to me, but somehow were lessened. I was laughing and running in my lateness. I could see my breath completely now and my friend ran beside me, both of us thrilled (I in raptures) by what we had just witnessed: a play.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas

(Otherwise known as: Sleeping Long Hours)

It is with great relief that I packed myself into a small car late in the afternoon on December 19. The snow had been coming down hard since about 1am the morning of the same day. My last night as an RA for Fall 2009 (no fears. I'm returning in the spring!) was spent in a near empty dorm hall hanging out with a few RAs and getting into "trouble". My capabilities for trouble are often uncreative, but I found a good things to do, like take the carts in the basement and racing them down the hallway ramp outside the laundry room and riding my bike in the hallways. Break mentality was setting in but I nearly didn't get out of State College. The Roads were quite bad but I had found a ride with a friend of a friend who was going anyway. I held my breath most of the way but we never went too fast or lost control. Amazing. Being home and out of the dorm was a relief even in quite the snow fall we had.

Break, Christmas, has been lovely. I have seen some dear and long neglected friends. I have visited the "Midtown Scholar" (a coffee house and scholarly bookstore in Harrisburg) with Mim and discussed the complication of lit theory with Hannah E. I have started Anna Karenina and am almost a third of the way through. I have played wii more than I have at any other time in my life and watched movies with the family. It has been a true rest. I've been grateful. It took me four nights to start feeling rested when I woke up. This is a good place to be.

And today was Christmas. We all enjoyed it with far too much sugar, gifts, movies, and hanging out. Our celebrations are always rushed with their suddenness, unpretentious, and carried out with a "pjs all day" atmosphere. For some reason, this particular holiday brings out complex emotions for me. I don't think there is another day in the year (other than my birthday which carries similar connotations) that so impresses upon me my utter selfishness. I think it is the realization that I am being lavished with gifts (appreciated) but knowing even as the paper comes off that I do not appreciate them as they deserve, nor do they satisfy. Satisfy? I don't know if I even attach that profound of a desire to objects. Even the ability to delight in the objects before me is diffused by an overwhelming sense of the temporary of everything that goes into these observations. Where does it come from?

Me. This selfish, screwed up human being who is caught in focusing on a world that extends as far as her arms can reach and her eyes can see. Being short sighted, I can see about half a foot without glasses, but not terribly far or clearly with. Once again, I've been caught with my mind and heart meditating on myself and my desires and my thoughts and opinions on a day where I am most specifically urged to meditate on the Incarnation of Christ, and the Grace that came through that. Confession: I almost resent this command. To dwell on it would mean that I would be forced into changing the way I view the world. I would be caught in irresistible knowledge of my helplessness; shown a Person, a Word, a Maker, that makes His own new; and grateful. Sure. I know this. I also know that I did not look at that squarely this morning. I also know that to do so would be to live in freedom already born, died, and even currently living on my behalf [the verb tense shift was deliberate]. Sounds about as appealing as a salad compared to the ridiculous stuffing and apple pie I had tonight. I also know that the option of eating the salad would have made me awake, coherent, and lithe rather than the rather weighty effects of Mom's pie. It seems I've missed and neglected the entire point of the day if that is how I see the whole thing right now. No wonder I've been having some writers block... there isn't really a place for me to even write if I don't have the Incarnation, the Word of God made flesh and "pitching his tent" among us. It is the bread and wine, the life, of my very existence. It is death and I am caught in a failure to follow God's Law ("whoever has my commands and keeps them, he it is who loves me..." john 14:21).

Two hours left in the day. There is some time to reconsider my missed Advent and Christmas day.

(This song might as well be a Christmas hymn... kind of. It is associated, for some reason, for me with O Come, O Come Emmanuel, almost as an answer made possible by Christmas, by God coming in the flesh.)

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am”;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thanksgiving

This is a summary of Thanksgiving at the Tingle House:















The trip to Georgia was wonderful. I enjoyed the time with family and the time I was also able to spend with two Worldivew friends. Greer met us outside of Charlotte and drove with us for over an hour while we caught up. I drove to see Leah at her house after her classes were done and spent the night (which saw us staying up till all hours with funfetti cookies and many, many stories from the summers and the fall). The differences between Georgia and home were surprisingly stark for me this trip. There are very real, tangible differences between the life I live in Pennsylvania and the way life is lived in Athens, Georgia. It starts with the geography, the land. Here, the trees are branchy and full, and not terribly tall. They hold fast and go with the heavy winds we sometimes get especially in the winter months. The earth is brown. The summers are lush green, the falls even brighter. In Georgia, the trees are tall and straight with their limbs stretching straight in either direction. Leah noticed this: they do not move in the wind. The outer limbs may rustle but they do not shake and toss and turn like water surfaces as our short maple and ash so violently do. And the air feels and smells rather differently. It was interesting to note this strange comparison... was it for the first time and I just recognized my awareness of it?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fire Alarms

This happened the other night. I have other posts that will go up soon about the past month and a half, but this entertaining (?) vignette will have to do. Welcome to Penn State Res Life, Simmons Hall.

It was the moment between dreaming and waking that I cannot remember and yet I still feel was timeless. It happened in less than an instant. Time slowing down would not alter the abrupt jerk it was to move from a dream to being awake... to being awake and being frightened. I cannot remember it. Memory begins when I was stumbling around the room in the dark, telling myself again and again to calm down and to do the things you know you should do when the alarm goes off. I couldn't. Memory beings with me frantically failing at leaving my room. I do not know how long that had been. Even if it had only been a second, just a frozen second, it felt slowed out, sluggish. It was the physical comparison between the jolt from dream into a dark nightmare of sound and fury. Fire alarms are painful. I hit the light switch and looked at the clock. 4:30. The inexplicable hour marks confirmed the terror for some reason. Cold. It must be cold outside. I grabbed a coat then took it off and put on a sweatshirt and then the coat. I put on a hat and took it off. I found my slip on shoes and thought about socks but couldn't seem to figure out where I kept them (perhaps I was still dreaming). I left the room, locked it. I unlocked it, reentered and grabbed my cell phone. I left and locked it. I left for a final time. The sound was inside my head it seemed. Everything was screaming. The walls were, the ground was, I was. Not really. It was just the alarms, flashing slowly and brightly. Raaeeeuuunn. Raaeeeeun. Raaaeeeun. Again and again and again. Three in a row. Small pause. Three in a row. Small pause. It was a sound that vibrated our bodies and we were desperate to escape, fire or no fire. It was a good explanation for how disoriented I was in my room and the shock of going from sleep into 100% adrenalen. A small quiver of relief at seeing all my girls exit their rooms burst in me, most of the girls ahead of me on the way down the stairs. I found out later that some of them had forgotten shoes. I was not the only one gripped in the panic and shaking of the sound. The hallway was almost empty and we were all sleepy. I could hardly even see them in my fatigue. We rushed down the stairs and out into the cold. A crowd had gathered at the door. My hands and voice were shaking. I pushed through the waiting crowd to the door. They looked ready to go in again. "Everyone move back from the door! Please step away from the building! I don't want anyone close to this door! Please scoot back!" Mike stepped out, more disoriented than I was. And suddenly, the alarms were gone. I breathed. They breathed. We were all talking again and went back inside.

It was after I had mounted the steps with ease that I remembered that my knee had been hurting me and had begun to hurt again. It was also when I started noticing the people around me. It was like a bad sleep over party with way too many people and not enough sleep. There is a reason we all have our own rooms and do not have parties. Sleep doesn't make beautiful people. Neither do pjs nor fire alarms nor sub 20 degree weather. It was while I walked down the long hallway back to my room that the cold hit my bones and I started shivering. The adrenaline was coming down and my empty stumoch threatened to leave me dizzy and perched above the rim of a toilet, heaving my guts out my mouth. I didn't. We talked a little bit, in anger, trying to undo the fear. None of us would sleep for a while. I laid in bed and held onto a favorite book I had not thought to carry out with me. I had terrible visions of the building actually being on fire even though we were all falling asleep again in our beds. I chuckled though as my heart slowed down and the shivering was counteracted by the soft blankets and holding the book in my arms. I began to realize how I had just stepped through the situation we all think about as kids: what would I take if the house was on fire? Mom always said that there wouldn't be enough time to grab anything. I thought that was ridiculous. Fire always seemed slow enough in the movies to grab the important things. Yet here I was. I did not grab the computer or even consider it. I didn't grab a favorite book. I did not grab my school work or my journals. I grabbed clothes (that mismatched) for the cold, shoes, a phone to call my coordinator, and another item stuffed into my pocket for potential later use. I had, essentially, grabbed myself. It was my only thought (Other than "Should I wait for the floor? No, the RA handbook says to not do that. Elizabeth would be angry." In my sleepy state, the handbook seemed the best reason not to check the doors!) The time in the question when it is posed "What would you save?" isn't there when the alarm goes. Even if you answer right away, there is emotional time given to consider it. There are gut responses that always list some item as worthy of being saved. But in the moment, the physical time is gone. The emotional time has moved into the negatives, and the body is the primary thing I was desperate to see out of that building and in the cold air. There had been spasms of trying to answer that question when I found myself stumbling around the room, but they were lost in the overwhelming instinct to get out.

This was somehow amusing and I was drifting off to sleep, chuckling to myself, when I heard in another part of the building, the screaming demons begin again. "Oh no...." I groaned and it hit my room with full force again. There were yells mixed in this time, frustration. The clock read 5:30 am, exactly an hour after the first one. I had my clothes laid out in case this happened and was out the door in two seconds. The intensity was less this time. All of the floor was looking at me to explain and I couldn't give them anything. They were angry. One or two of them started to cry. I laughed. If it had gone off a second time, it meant that we had never been in any real danger from a fire. It confirmed the quick silence of the one before. The fire department would not have let us back in and would have stayed if... well, it was all going to be okay. I tried to spread this attitude as I could among my girls as they gathered at the back of the door crowd. The alarm was even shorter this time. We gathered near the bathroom doors to rant and to commiserate and offer each other explanations and strangely awake "Goodnights". The sun would be up in an hour, though most of us would not awake or out of our rooms till noon.

Later that afternoon, I asked another RA. "Do you think my coordinator will let me count this as a program?" We laughed. "Seriously though, when have I ever had all 54 students in one place at the same time? In the snow? That is serious talent."

End of the story:
The reason for the alarm was this: a student had stolen several fire extinguishers and run through the hallways, spraying them. The smoke detectors picked it up as smoke and went off. The student did it again an hour later. They were not caught. My floor is currently on a man-hunt. Any news of this perpetrator should be handled with caution as I and my floor would like to see them brought to (our) justice. :-)