The Divine: A Story of Sarah Bernhardt spark story by: Madeline Bickerstaff

The Spatial Experience: As I entered the auditorium and saw the large crowd of students waiting anxiously to get their tickets, the anticipation began. I have always loved watching plays ever since I saw my first play- Mary Poppins- on Broadway when I was about twelve years old. I was especially looking forward to this one after reading the synopsis online, and because I haven’t seen a play in a few years. The Constance Theatre is the perfect sized theatre in my opinion, with just enough seats to allow even the farthest people in the back to still have a great view of the play. However, I was lucky enough to get one of the front row seats, which further enhanced my experience. I sat in the front left of the auditorium, only a few feet from the actors, which made the play even more exciting because I felt connected to the actors/actresses and it felt much more real. When the lights dimmed and the audience became silent my anticipation grew even more. I turned off my phone and directed my complete attention to the stage. I believe the “role of place” in creating the Good Life is that our surroundings play a huge role in shaping how we feel about certain circumstances. If there weren’t such pleasant greeters at the door, a small and homey theatre, beautiful scenery and decorations for the stage, and hundreds of eager freshman thrilled to see the play, I don’t think my experience would have been the same.

Me as I walked into the waiting area at the Constance Theatre

The Social Experience: I attended the play with one of my best friends (and roommate) Megan Welsh, who is also in the Good Life. I was very happy to have her come with me so I wouldn’t have to be that awkward person who doesn’t have anyone to talk to or sit with. She definitely made my experience more enjoyable. We both got ready together in our apartment and then went out to dinner before the play; it was an all-around great night. We shared many laughs together and had some deep discussions about the play afterwards. It was nice to have someone by my side all night, to discuss certain aspects of the play that we were both confused about, and to compare opinions and interpretations of some of the scenes. There were a few scenes that I honestly had no idea what was going on and Megan clarified for me, and vice versa. We both thoroughly enjoyed the play and made several new friends. I think that shared experiences like these play a critical role in the Good Life because sometimes you need someone else to go through life with, someone else to learn from, someone else to show you new perspectives and make you think deeper.

Me in front of the entrance to the Constance Theatre

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience: Before attending the performance, I honestly did not know anything about the play until I read the brief synopsis on Canvas, which made me even more intrigued to watch the performance. The central issue in The Divine was a clash between theatre and morality (or religion). There was quite a lot of hypocrisy and controversy in the Catholic church. For example, we found out that the reason Talbot received special treatment even after he was presumed a thief and fought with the priest, was because he was sexually abused by one of the priests. Yet he covered it up out of shame. Also, Brother Casgrain was raped by the same elder priest, and he chose to cover it up to protect the church. It was very shocking and disturbing to discover that a man of such high religious superiority was the man who committed these heinous crimes. The play was a constant struggle of a battle with one’s personal morals and how much they are willing to sacrifice those morals in order to keep a “Good Life.” Nearly every character in the play covered up a scandal to protect themselves or their family. For example, Casgrain covered up his past to protect the church. Talbot covered up his rape to protect himself and his family. The boss of the shoe factory covered up their poor working conditions and hiring young workers to protect his business, and so on. The performance certainly made me better understand humans and why we make the choices that we do. Sometimes our selfishness overrides our morals. While it probably seems absurd to most of us that someone would refrain from convicting a man of sexually abusing them, we cannot comprehend what it would be like until we are placed in the victim’s shoes and fully understand their situation. And it seems extremely corrupt that a man would lie about his shoe factories’ conditions and cause young children to suffer (some even died), but if we were placed in his situation I think some of us wouldn’t even think twice about it. As someone who has grown up in a religious home and values morals more than just about anything, this play certainly opened up my eyes to reality. While I would love to say that I am perfect and never experienced any of the struggles in this play, I cannot. We all have temptations that are extremely hard to flee and sometimes we give in no matter how hard we try not to. We all have innate selfish desires and tend to put ourselves first, even if it means hurting someone else. We all want the Good Life, but the path to the Good Life is different for everyone and I don’t believe most people achieve it considering the suicide rates, the alcohol and drug abuse, the 50 percent U.S divorce rate, the amount of poverty and starvation in our country, etc. If the Good Life was easy, everyone would live it. Our choices define who we are and we all suffer the consequences of our choices one way or another. For example, the boss of the shoe factory will have to live with the fact that because of his choices, little Leo Talbot is dead.

Me outside of the Constance Theatre

The emotional experience: The Divine: A Play for Sarah Berhardt is the epitome of katharsis. As mentioned before, the multiple opportunities for characters to “come clean” plays a huge part in the theme of the play. These characters could have come clean but they chose not to for selfish reasons. The play undoubtedly covered “topics that are socially uncomfortable, politically contentious, religiously irreverent, or culturally radical.” For one, sex outside of marriage is regarded as highly immoral and probably one of the worst sins for the Catholic faith. Talbot, during his time training to be a priest, got seduced by promiscuous actress Madeleine and slept with her immediately after meeting her which shows his naivety and humaneness in the sense that he could not resist his sexual temptations. Scenes like that make the audience examine their own lives and think about what moral struggles and examples of katharsis they have. No matter how pure or ethical anyone considers themselves to be, every single human has made choices that conflict with their own personal morals. I really liked how relatable and realistic the play was, and how it made you think twice about the Good Life and wonder if any of the characters in the play had achieved it.

"Talk Back" with the actors after the play

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