I came into the Reitz that night to a packed lobby. There were many other students outside of the theater taking pictures and socializing. I did not spend long there since I came to go to the theater. I filed in with a group of other students and presented my student ID to the ticket official. With a smile and a warm greeting, she took my card and handed me a program. "Enjoy the show!" she said to me. I moved into the theater and was directed to one of the best, if not the best, seats in the house. I was in the front left at the bottom of the main seating area. From that seat, I really felt apart of the performance. The cast came in from the sides and the back and rushed past me, singing. It was really an incredible way to begin the production. Then, the a spotlight appeared. There in the beam was Sarah Bernhardt. I felt as much a part of the crowd of fans as any of the actors on the stage. And there was plenty more to follow. As the show progressed, my proximity to the stage really allowed me to be engrossed. I am confident that I would not have been so deeply affected had I not been as close to the stage as I was.
Me, out front of The Constans Theater
My view of the stage, during the intermission
There are two very contrasting views on the social experience at the theater: the lone, calm experience and the exciting, energetic experience. Most often, I prefer to do things like this by myself. I am very self-reflective and analytic. Being alone in the theater that night really allowed me to understand the struggles that Talbot was going through. My being alone mirrored Talbot's feeling of being alone and trapped in his situation. At the same time, I can understand how being with friends could make the atmosphere electric. The play, after all, was about a starstruck, aspiring young playwright and his struggle to balance his artistic dreams with his religious aspirations. Either way, the social experience was instrumental in personal connection with the characters in the production.
The Cultural and Intellectual
This play had me uneasy in the beginning. I was dreading that it would simply be a crass criticism of the Catholic Church, which I believe is in bad taste given how Pope Francis has worked hoard to advance the Catholic Church's views. Instead I was pleasantly surprised. The play focused more on the moral dilemma's of the two main characters: Talbot and Michaud. Michaud had a passion for the theater, which at that time was condemned by the Catholic Church. As a young seminarian, Michaud could have very easily given up on his dream to write a play about poverty. He was constantly discouraged by his superiors and even told to go tell his idol, Sarah Bernhardt, that the archbishop forbade her to perform. Not only that, but his best friend and inspiration didn't want his story to be told. Talbot's story is truly a tragic one. While his life was filled with horrible injustices, such as child labor and sexual abuse, Talbot wanted what was best for his family, regardless of what it cost him personally. He forfeits any possible closure or justice by promising not to tell the authorities about how he was sexually abused. Talbot does this because of the promise of a good, steady job that could lift his family from poverty and a promise that his younger brother would be lifted from the factory and put into school, for free. Talbot's struggle, when juxtaposed with the affluence and naivety of Michaud, shakes one's moral compass to the core.
Me, after the performance
Looking back now, I really should not have smiled for this picture. The ending of The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt is as true a tragedy as any of Sophocles' Greek tragedies. This was masterfully done by the character of Michaud, who took an aside at the end to explain what had happened. It was incredibly powerful to hear that Talbot had gone on with life, still not pursuing closure. I suppose that Michaud's dedication to telling the story of not only Talbot, but other victims like him, provided a closure for the audience. The suicide of Brother Casgrain really caught me off guard. I can only imagine how Talbot felt in the beginning of the play, trapped and strong-armed into avoiding the truth. Yet, Casgrain was struggling with the same demons and encouraging another victim to turn the other way. The play would not have had as profound an effect on my had Casgrain simply lived on. His death showed the grim reality that Talbot was facing then and many people face today, and on a daily basis. You never truly know what is going on inside another person's mind. The least you can do is offer a kind word and a shoulder to lean on.