The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt by Grant preston

Introduction: I saw the play on January 20th. I had little knowledge of what it would be about beforehand, but it certainly had me thinking long after I left the theater. Part of what defines the quality of a performance or piece of art is its ability to stay with the viewer after the view has gone home. The play forced me to keep Talbot's plight in mind long after I'd left campus that night.

The Spatial Experience: Two distinct features of the auditorium made me comfortable from the moment I walked in. First, It was smaller than I anticipated, which made the atmosphere seem intimate, but not unbearably so. Second, the ceiling that I sat beneath was high above my head. It felt oddly reminiscent of Gothic church architecture, which commands the attention of the patron to look up, and feel small in the presence of God. I was seated in the front row of the section to the left, if one were looking to the stage and not from it. The middle section of the theater had seats continuing down into a recess in the floor, so I had a view of the entire audience if I chose to turn my head. My seat put me feet away from the actors when entering from the door to my side. The actress playing Sarah Bernhardt came through it at one point in the play, and looked at me as she delivered a monologue. It was a rare moment for me in which the actress, not the story, evoked a feeling of personal connection within me. I didn't fully understand what the play was about at the time the lights dimmed, so the it marked the peak of my excitement to learn the story. The auditorium was full of people. I could not see an empty seat. The collective reactions of the audience certainly served to amplify the events of the play as they transpired. Place takes a huge role in the good life, and it does so beyond the narrow definition of physical place. I certainly had a different view of the show from my seat than others did from their own, but the people who surrounded me made a bigger difference. For instance, the people I sat near were relatively quiet. Had I sat elsewhere, I may have been surrounded by people checking their phones or chatting with friends during the performance. Physical place is important, but what's more important is the people around me. I could move anywhere in the world, but at some point in the future, that novelty will subside, and it will just be where I live. I spent two years living in a place that was entirely different from where I grew up, but the snow and views I had initially marveled at became familiar to the point that I would stare at the sidewalk while walking. Instead, the people that surrounded me defined it, and choosing a place became less about mountains or beaches, and more about the company I found around them.

The Social Experience: I went to the play alone. Prior to heading to campus to see the play, I showered and changed from the clothes I'd worn to class that day, and had dinner. I was fortunate enough to go to an evening show, which allowed me the privilege of parking tag-less car in the Broward Parking Garage, since the tag requirement expired at 4:30 PM on that day. Having attended the play alone, I left the theater thinking about it with no one around to bounce my ideas off of. I saw others discussing it within their own friend groups and felt as though I had missed out on an important part of the experience. Shared experiences are vital to the good life. It is easy to see the desperation people have to enjoy things together. Instagram is an app that exists purely to allow people to show pictures to other people. Watchers of the same TV shows create forums to discuss episodes. I cannot speak for others, when something noteworthy happens around me, I want to call my friends' attention to it. It creates a connection, however trivial, that allows people to recall and find common ground on. It happens with alumni of schools, members of the military, viewers of the play I watched and almost any other experience or group into which someone could parse people into. Despite being completely unique people with entirely different lives, we can step into each other's shoes based on a the notion that we all saw or did this one thing that other people can't relate to. People are social beings, and something within us causes us to yearn for connection. The expressions of shared experiences, and the desire to create them are all demonstrations of this idea. The play created a new audience. Obviously a became a part of the group that had seen the play, but another formed within even that group, of which I am not a part. Victims of the kind of assault that Talbot experienced are tacitly entwined after witnessing this play. They have their own special bond that could hopefully allow them to gain a voice, recognize one another, and grow together.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience: Growing up in one particular culture can prompt individuals to settle into it, and see no flaws. As a child I saw my parents as pure bastions of affection and truth, and I deemed them infallible. I didn't treat them as individuals with their own history or mistakes. I had a much more sober view of other people, and other adults. This idea extends to the church as an institution. I grew up going to Christian school, and felt that the blanket of the religion I followed (and continue to follow) would shield it from flaw. This gave me a distorted perspective that caused me to assume that people with spoken subscription to my religion gave them moral impunity. I could see the flaws in subscribers of other religions if they were there. Despite having generally shed that idea years ago, the play allowed me to further notice the fact that a declaration of religion cannot stop people from doing bad things, and acknowledgement of those things isn't an indictment of the belief system itself, but of the perpetrators. The show focused on the issue of sexual assault within the Catholic Church by ranking members within it. I knew relatively little about the matter, no more than some of what was demonstrated in the play: merely that it happens at times, and is not universally exposed when it does. I did learn that some ranking members of the church had fallen victim to assault, but suppressed it, and chose to stay, climb the ladder, and even cover for others as adults. The performance slightly changed the way I think about the issue, but it did not lead me to question my faith in any way. It revealed to me how silent victims can be, and how a power dynamic in a relationship can influence such silence and complicity. This was shown in the character of Brother Casgrain. He experienced assault, and in later years covered for the same man who was continuing it with new victims. I cannot control the actions of other people, and see their transgressions as violations of the first commandment: taking the Lord's name in vain. I do not know how widespread or rampant this problem is. If proof came out that this it is the norm, I would distance myself from the institutions or people responsible. However, my relationship with God is between Him and me. The church is a medium through which I can express that relationship, but it isn't the only one. The subject matter is relevant to me only in that it pertains to a branch of faith that I practice (protestant). I don't condone it, and in fact wholeheartedly condemn it. I hope the church is able to eradicate that behavior from its ranks. I do not know anyone who has a personal experience analogous to what transpires in the play.

The Emotional Experience: The play allows Christians to experience katharsis in a way that I believe is more beneficial than not. Denying an issue does not make the issue disappear. Witnessing this play doesn't make me feel guilty about what I believe, and I don't believe it should make others feel that way unless they have engaged in behavior like this or been complicit in it. This play merely sheds light on an issue that can, and should, be corrected. It is an opportunity for Christians to come together to address the problem. The only concern I think a Christian could have would be that outsiders of the religions would see this behavior as indicative of the faith as a whole. Pointing out flaws, even in such dramatic fashion, can only serve to call attention to, and hopefully eliminate them. For victims, I suppose it would allow them the opportunity to try to come to terms with the horrid against that they have experiences, and understand that they are not alone. They have the opportunity to realize that perhaps other people understand and wish to alleviate their plight.

Created By
Grant Preston
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