The Divine: A Good Life Performance By domiNic alhambra

Introduction

The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt mixes the social and economic issues of Dostoyevsky with the playful dramatism of the titular Sarah Bernhardt to produce a wide-ranging drama that incorporates religion, class, and gender as subjects for exploration. Produced by the University of Florida school of dramatic arts, we are able to have a campus-produced exploration of the Good Life and how it is achieved or avoided through the choices and the actions of people with various backgrounds and life experiences.

The Spatial Experience

The Constans Theatre looks to be a central figure of the University of Florida's cultural exports, connected to the Reitz Union Building and easily accessible by most students and visitors to the campus. Entering the building from the side entrance that overlooks a small lake, one can find that the theater was deliberately constructed with prestige in mind: several lobby areas surround the main entrances to the theatre with various lighting fixtures and and aesthetics that are not just Gator-themed but more respectful to the art form as more than the campus it resides in.

Being part of an earlier crowd entering the performance area, I was seated just couple rows away from the stage. This, coupled with the size of the auditorium, would be integral to the formatting and experience of the performance itself. By creating an area specifically designed for stage plays, the Good Life can be achieved by the encouragement of focusing on the performance and its themes rather than any other distractions; the culture of the stage performance, including the dimming of the lights, was intuitively understood by the audience as a time to quiet down and ready themselves.

The Social Experience

Having attended the performance alone, I was able to prepare for the performance by taking a long walk from my residence to campus while reading any online literature describing what themes the play might be exploring. However, the audience in itself is a social experience; during intermission -- and at times during performance -- one could hear the murmurs of opinions and thoughts: the shared space of the auditorium is as much a place for discussion as it is a place for performance. This type of dialogue may be important to the exploration of the Good Life, as subjective as it is.

The Cultural/Intellectual Experience

The Divine focused on a late 1800s-early 1900s time period during which the effects of the Industrial Revolution continued to alter the lives of the poor, the rich, the male, the female, the religious and the secular. The Play unfocused itself from a single topic and tackles class, religious, and gender issues in order to argue that the play format is important for the discussion of all these issues that still occur in modern times. While the play did not provide new ideas to these three subjects, being able to introduce them through the lens of a comedy-drama could be helpful or entertaining to those uninitiated to the art form. The play itself may not be directly relatable, but it touches on issues that can be highly personal to anybody struggling with religion, poverty or gender.

The Emotional Experience

The Divine applies the concept of catharsis by stacking on three disparate struggles of late 19th century life, exploring them to their limit, and then finding some kind of recourse to overcome those issues or succumb to them. By employing melodramatic situations from pedophilia, child death, and strong emotions, the performance was able to bring out these issues into the light and then attempt to find an answer to them. While the play might suffer from being overwrought, it can still display catharsis by its loudest and quietest scenes. As the audience, we take joy or pain in such displays of emotion.

Created By
Dominic Alhambra
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