A Night at the Theatre 'the divine: a play for sarah bernhardt'

Spatial Enhancement of My Experience


The muted hum of the Reitz Union was traded in for the reverent quiet of the Constans theatre. Lights faded into a dimmed, almost hazy atmosphere. As the auditorium darkened I felt the anticipation of the actors pumping through my own veins. Personally, I felt I had returned to my home- the theatre. Many weeks I've spent rehearsing on similar stages and I knew well the feeling of staring into a pitch black audience as the spotlight followed my every move. Under such scrutiny one might find my comfortability unusual but I have never felt more free to be me than in those moments; the moments where the audience ceases to exist and I embody a character on a stage.
Ushers placed me downstage right within the area usually employed as an orchestra pit. My seat was nearest the wall and my hips were aligned to the stage’s height. In the opening moments of the play, Sarah Bernhardt (played by Christie Robinson) glided in through the door nearest me. The swishing of her dress echoed and I was inches away from her sparkling train. During the second Act, Michaud (played by Jake Lesh) heartily cried over the sexual atrocities inflicted on Talbot (played by Diego Zozaya) at the hands of an ordained priest. When Michaud knelt and sobbed in his nightgown his face was level with mine and the tears streaking down my cheeks mirrored his. From my seat, I was a participant in the unfolding drama.
Although the theatre was of a substantial size, and at least for the first Act relatively filled, I felt as though I was alone in the audience. The play seemed to be put on especially for me; each character relayed their tale for my ears only.
“With a thousand eyes, the river looked at him, with green ones, with white ones, with crystal ones, with sky-blue ones. How did he love this water, how did it delight him, how grateful was he to it! In his heart he heard the voice talking, which was newly awaking, and it told him: Love this water! Stay near it! Learn from it,” (Hesse, 73). Siddhartha found his peace and bliss at the river alongside the tranquil Ferryman.
Location may not appear to be the greatest determinate of one’s personal happiness, but setting certainly plays a role. While in Constans theatre I was struck by the moment in history that this play was set in because the social, economic and even religious strife of the time effected the plot. Likewise, when I was born and where I choose to live has and can shape my life implicitly and explicitly. My decision to reside in Gainesville and study at UF has proven a good decision that makes me echo Siddhartha’s words; I love this place, I want to stay near it and learn from it. Therefore, as I continue seeking the good life, I realize that my satisfaction can be altered due to time and place unless I discover a peace that transcends my locale.

Social Experience

Although I am of the opinion that strangers are oftentimes the friends I have not met yet, there is an easy state of being when in the presence of close companions. Haley Harp (pictured left) is a girl from my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida and though our lives intersected on numerous occasions we had never met till I joined Theta Alpha during my first semester at UF. We were shocked to find out how many mutual friends and experiences we shared. So despite our lack of actual history there is a feeling of home and familiarity whenever I am with Haley. As for Maddie Mitchem (pictured right), she is the wallflower who is my opposite and yet, complement in every way. Maddie and I have several classes together and you can find us enjoying weekly hammocking sessions wherein we share our hopes, fears and daily musings. This spring break we have discussed travelling to New Jersey to see her Dad and even take a few trips into New York City. These are the two friends who I entered and exited the theatre with.

  • Experiencing ‘The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt’ with Haley and Maddie was unique in that after the final curtain call we were able to discuss the emotions that raged as the plot thickened, dissect each of the characters’ performances and share what we would be our takeaways. Similar to watching the same television show or seeing the same movie, Haley, Maddie and I were able to converse about the live performance which was even more special since it was only shared between the three of us.
On a larger scale, these two girls represent the many relationships I have already been privileged to make in a little over a semester at UF. In regards to pursuing the Good Life, I don’t see the point of enjoying my days without anyone to share them with. My whole life I have surrounded myself with friends and family because in my opinion, existing is a relational experience.
'The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt' by: Michel Marc Bouchard

A Cultural Experience

The play, set in 1905, may seem ancient in respect to our modern world but 1905 really wasn’t that long ago. During the first Act I was struck by how far our society has come in terms of technology, dress and even socioeconomic hierarchy; granted there is always room for improvement. Then following intermission, I was slammed with the main conflict of the play involving young Talbot and the “gratitude” expected of him by the homosexual priest. Surrounding this central plight was the harsh reality of the poverty stricken who due to their lack of options were relegated to bow and scrape to the affluent business owners who could care less about their worker’s well-being.

Prior to seeing the play, I knew of the sexual abuse inflicted on poor boys taken in by the Catholic church and I knew of the dangerous and inhumane working conditions of the destitute factory workers. However, as is often the case, these abominations and injustices were made even more heinous when reenacted live before my eyes. I reviled the church and hated the selfish factory owners depicted by Brother Casgrain (played by Everett Yancey) and The Boss (played by Samuel Richardson). My righteous anger was only further incensed by Mrs. Talbot’s (played by Kristina Johnson) brokenness as her sweet son Leo (played by Tyler Ellman) died in the factory where he was too young to be working anyhow.

The performance's high quality sets and acting chops truly brought me into the wintery months of 1905 in Quebec City. I felt the helplessness of Talbot’s family, the horrific loss of the decapitated young girl at the factory, and Michaud’s utter desperation to right the wrongs. Each issue that colored the play only heightened my awareness of the cruel, sickening and godawful evils that this world often brings us face to face with. As a Christian, I felt nauseous knowing that such terrible deeds were done in the name of God. Much like Michaud, I could not- initially- handle looking into the depravity of man’s soul and when I did I felt so utterly powerless to fix the wickedness that I saw.

As for me, personally, when I was in eighth grade I was sexually abused by a boy on a school bus. At the time I was an innocent, having no idea what was going on and it was only a couple years later that I understood what I had been a victim of. In this way I can understand Talbot’s vulnerability when assaulted by a more experienced priest and the self-revulsion, guilt and anger that he felt. Harming the innocent is a deplorable abomination that I cannot be blasé about. When Michaud gave Talbot some justice and closure I felt like I had been offered the same chance at freedom. Therefore, while I cannot know what it is like to be financially impoverished, I do know how it feels to be taken advantage of.
I (pictured middle) played the suffragette, & under-appreciated mother and wife, Mrs. Banks, in my high school's spring musical 'Mary Poppins'.

CatharsisThrough a Performance

I agree with Dr. Pagán and Sarah Bernhardt that the theatre can serve as a setting to comment on social, political, religious and cultural inequities. Moral discussions can be had at center stage and their impact can be on the minds and lips of audience members for years to come. Actors and Actresses can light a fire in my soul that begins with personal reflection and is exhibited in outward change.

As we watch ‘The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt,’ Michaud demonstrates the stages of catharsis. Once Michaud allowed himself to gape at the corruption of society and the gross immorality mankind is capable of he felt righteously burdened. Michaud’s emotional journey gave him perspective on the realities of our world and led him to reason out a plan for enacting justice. While in the audience we are offered passage on this tumultuous pilgrimage of cathartic awareness, understanding and reevaluation of how we achieve a virtuous ideal. By comprehending how the world is, we can then perceive how the world ought to be.

Works Cited

Hesse, Hermann, and Hilda Rosner. Siddhartha. New York: New Directions, 1951.













Pictures with Haley and Maddie were included after procuring their written consent.

End Scene.Final Curtain.

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