The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Molly Williams


The performance of The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt was a moving narrative about the oppression of those in poverty and the secrecy of the church circa 1900 in Quebec City. The play explores different characters moralities and how they act upon those values. The play was able to show that each character felt truly justified in his or her actions and sparked thought and discussion on how to determine what was morally correct.

The Spatial Experience

When arriving at Constans Theater I was surprised by the size of the venue and the venue's ability to accommodate such large crowds. Before attending the play I was under the impression that the theater would be very small as it was located inside of the Reitz Union and I had never heard of any other plays being performed there. It was exciting to watch the large theater fill up with people ready to watch the performance of The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt. Upon entering I was impressed by how beautiful the setup of the stage was with the seat height getting lower the closer the seats were to the stage. My seat was in the middle of the seventh row from the stage and my view was unobstructed. I was close enough to clearly see the facial expressions that each actor made while delivering lines or reacting to another actor's lines and I felt that the expressions the actors used made the play more lifelike. It made the characters appear more realistic and like their characters were ordinary people rather than actors standing on stage delivering a memorized line. As the lights dimmed and the fake snow began to fall by the stained glass windows I had chills. I felt like I was being transported to the setting the cast was in and I became excited to hear the stories of Michaud and Talbot and whether they would become priests or not along with the rest of the characters in the play. The role of place in the Good Life is to create a space where individuals can be themselves and be comfortable exploring new things. The Constans Theater was a place that allowed audiences to explore themes of oppression and morality in a comfortable and safe environment.

The Social Experience

I attended the performance of The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt with three of the girls that live in the same residence hall as me. In our dorm we all helped each other choose appropriate outfits and ate dinner together before walking over to Constans Theater. The play was enhanced for me as a viewer while attending with friends because after the play I was able to discuss the performance with my roommate and view her interpretation of the play. We agreed on certain aspects of the play and disagreed on others. My roommate felt as if the character of Sarah Bernhardt's eccentric personality was unnecessary for certain aspects of the plot, such as a priest taking advantage of a younger seminarian, while I believed that her personality gave necessary comic relief to serious subjects such as rape and child labor throughout the performance. We both agreed that Leo's traumatic death from child labor was one of the most moving aspects of the play, as it was able to shock audience members as the characters on stage discussed the evilness of child labor as he suffocated below them The shared experience of this performance with my friends allowed me to make connections and discuss beliefs which in turn helped to deepen already standing friendships. These shared experiences in Good Life help to develop lasting relationships with others when you are able to exchange ideas.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

One of the central issues in the play was child labor and harm to children that was resulting from the unsafe working conditions. There were no laws yet enacted to ensure fair wages and safe working conditions in the early 1900s which is when The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt takes place. Before attending the performance I knew that child labor was an issue around the 1900s, but I did not understand how bad the abuse was or how many children were affected by unsafe working conditions. Child labor was something I read about in history books, but upon seeing the play and watching the way Leo suffers and eventually dies from his working conditions I was able to see that this happened to children very similar to kids that I know and love. It strengthened by already standing belief that child labor is wrong and made me realize it is important to still discuss topics involving keeping children from working in dangerous conditions. It is imperative to discuss difficult topics such as the abuse of children in the workforce because even with laws we as a society must make sure this cycle never repeats.

The Emotional Experience

Katharsis is a way to release emotional tensions that a person may have and through theatre a person can use katharsis as a way to portray or hear about something that is troubling them. The acting or watching of plays can lead to katharsis in a way similar to that of writing in a journal; it is a way to get a topic that is bothersome off your chest. In The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt, child labor is portrayed through Leo and the two girls that were beheaded in the factory by a machine malfunction. The portrayal of abuse perpetuated by factories in the play can allow society to acknowledge that this is going on and that they all know it. The acknowledgement of the problem can provide relief for people and give them the ability, now that the issue is identified, to make a resolution to fix the problem their society is facing. People want to live in a society they are proud to be a part of and people's environments contributes to their pursuit of a "good life". If people are able to work to fix their society after katharsis provided from a performance, then theatre is essential in pursuing a good life.

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