Experiencing the Good Life The DIVINE: a play for sarah bernhardt, as experienced by Amanda Post

The Good Life is not something we idly sit and watch as it goes on in front of us, but something that we experience. The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt, with its dark and provoking themes, the actors that performed and the space it was performed in, and its striking relevance to today was exactly that: an experience.

Space and the Good Life

Constans theatre is a beautiful space to watch a play. I walked in a saw the stained glass in the back of the theater, saw the seats go all the way down to the front, saw the curtains on either side of the stage. Theaters have always had a kind of magic in them, because you know from the moment you walk in that you are about to be taken from the sameness of your life and immersed in a new place and a new story, even if only for a little while. There is a certain sense of spirituality infused in the dark, open space, in the echoes, in the promise and anticipation of an empty stage, and Constans was no different. I was directed to my seat, and found myself front and center, a good place to be not only so that I get the full effect of the performance but also because I have pretty terrible eyesight and forgot my glasses that day. The theater was bigger than I had thought, which helped me imagine that I was no longer on campus, but really in a new place. As the lights dimmed and the audience quieted, I knew I was in for an experience.

I went alone to the play, which was an experience within itself. I was not alone, of course, but I did not know anybody I was sitting around, and that made for an interesting time of observation and reflection. Not only did I get to watch the play, but I also go to watch everyone around me's reaction to the play. The two girls to my left were absolutely enthralled, laughing genuinely at the jokes and gasping at the dramatic scenes and twists, while the boys in front of me and to the right really could not care less: I think at least one of them was asleep. There were people who chatted (whether it was about the play or not is hard to say) and people who did not make a sound, people who bolted out of there at the end and people who stayed and asked the cast incredibly thoughtful questions, and I had to privilege to sit in the middle and watch and listen. I had not wanted to go alone, but my friends and I had scheduling conflicts, and it could not be helped. I was not looking forward to it, but I am thankful that I had the unique opportunity to experience the play in a way that I would not have gotten to if I had went with my friends.

How Does it Relate?

The overarching theme of this play was humanity's intentional blindness to injustice for the sake of order. Whether it was sleazy factory owner or pious priest, "cover it up and forget" was the mantra of those who had seen or experienced unjust, unspeakable things, and though a hundred years have passed since the setting of this play, very little has changed, in government and in our personal lives. We are dependent on the structure we have created for ourselves, and when tragedy strikes at the hand of other people, that structure is threatened, and so we tend to throw a blanket over it at the expense of the victim. In The Divine we see some of the worst examples of this, in unlawful child labor in a dangerous workplace and systematic child abuse in a house of God. The blatant disregard for human life for the sake of structure in the performance challenged me to look at my own life. What do I choose not to see for my own comfort?

If nothing else, this was an emotional play. This was an uncomfortable play. And that is a beautiful thing. It achieved exactly what it was attempting to: to cause audiences to really think, to bring light to injustice through art. It depicted some of the ugliest sides of humanity, the abuse of the innocent and the blind eye to justice, the degradation of the poor and the unfair protection of the elite, and it was draining to me. I walked out of that theater in a haze, with my heart hurting and my mind racing, but appreciative of the katharsis it offered me, a chance to evaluate myself and the race that I belong to and see what changes needed to be made. The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt was an experience, and an experience that I am grateful for.

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