Introduction: The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt takes place in Quebec City, Canada, 1908.
Worlds collide as a young man from a family of impoverished factory workers meets another young man with a wealthier upbringing as they both train to be priests at the Grand Seminary. When the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt comes to town for a performance, the two boys are put on a journey together that reveals shocking truths about their church, their factory and even themselves. This play deals with injustice and the role of theater in fighting it. The entries below describe my personal experience seeing the productions, as well as some additional commentary from my own perspective.
The source of this picture can be found in the credits section at the bottom of this page.
The Spatial Experience: It was interesting to going inside the Constans Theater after a semester of glancing at it while walking through the Reitz Union. The building itself has a pretty impressive design that I feel enhances the experience of seeing a production there. Its entrance and lobby have an aesthetic design that's prominent, yet simple. The space does a good job of conveying to the viewer that it is a place of creativity without going overboard. While going through the lobby, I eagerly awaiting seeing the stage for the first time. First impressions can be powerful, often setting the tone for the play before the actors even arrive. That's at least how I think about it. The appearance of the auditorium, upon finally seeing it, filled me with curiosity above all else. The stage props sat in shadow, filling the room with a mood of anticipation. My seat at the far left of the stage, very near the front, offered me an interesting perspective on the performance. At certain points, the actors and actresses walked through the rows and made eye contact with the audience. This allowed me the opportunity to get a closer look at the characters than I typical would just watching the stage. Overall, I feel the spatial experience of the theater reflects the importance of place and space in pursuing the good life. It makes us look around and consider our position, both in the building, and in life in general.
This picture shows my arrival at the Constans Theater. The two guys to the left are friends of mine I have yet to see, but I asked for their permission to use this photograph.
The Social Experience: I had initially intended to go to this production alone. It's not the most amiable of decisions, but my attendance on this specific night was not planned too far in advance, so I didn't bother to coordinate with anyone. However, as the picture shows, I met good friends of mine from the dormitory right outside the entrance. We sat together in the auditorium and talked among ourselves until the play began. Looking back, it was a real stroke of luck seeing them there. If I had seen the show alone, no one would've been there to experience it alongside me. I couldn't share in watching the defining moments of the plot with anybody, and more importantly, I couldn't ask anyone else's opinion of the play. Going with friends when I had thought I would be going alone showed me something important about the good life: when you do things alone, you miss out. No man is an island, we do things together, either out of necessity or just because we want to. We're just better off that way.
I am outside the entrance with two friends of mine as we wait to go inside. I received permission from both of them to use this picture.
The Cultural and Intellectual Experience: The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt is a complicated story to say the least. It combined many different facets of early 20th century society, organized religion, workplace injustice, the censoring of expression. Like a well-written should, it dances between these topics with poise and intelligence, driving home the fact that there is good and bad in this world, and they don't always come gift-wrapped as one or the other. The central theme of this play, as I understand it, is to never let conceptions of what things should be like cloud your judgment to reality. The shoe factory seemed like a fair, industrious workplace, when in fact it promoted dangerous child labor. The elder priest seemed godly, when in fact he committed heinous acts against society. I can't say that the performance changed my perspective on any of the issues presented, but it did bring up a valid point. Accepting what is wrong and unjust as inevitable is the coward's way out. The only way to enact change in the world is to confront it unapologetically. Sarah Bernhardt's character conveys this spirit most strongly in the story, never letting public opinion censor her words or control her actions.
The source of this photo can be found in the credits section at the bottom of the page
The Emotional Experience: This play does a brilliant job of setting up the audience for a reluctant catharsis. We sit there and watch the first half, a light-hearted plot with colorful characters and a laugh every now and again. We then go into the second half expected more of the same, when suddenly things take a turn for the worst. Child molestation, a kid's death in a factory, suicide, very grim topics to say the least. But that's the point of the show as explained in the final monologue. I'm not supposed to leave the theater all happy and carefree like I came in. Catharsis comes when I watch what I don't want to see, and am forced to ask myself the tough questions. What do I do in response to this? How much of this in society is my responsibility to address? Coming clean about evil in the world and about apathy within ourselves is difficult, but plays like this can prompt us to be introspective when we don't have the guts to do it on our own.
I am leaving the theater in the picture, fully encapsulating the experience.