When the theatre makes me cry

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My children know that I am a sucker for a sad movie or television show. I cry when watching The West Wing, I cannot watch a film about a dog. Or a horse. Or a dog or horse equivalent. I cry. I cry EVERY TIME I see The Iron Giant. But theatre does not make me cry. I am rarely wrapped into the reality of the play or the emotions on stage. I can think of these times the theatre made me cry:

1 – the Laramie Project at ETHS. I saw it three nights. Every night I was caught in a different moment. But every night, when the young players raised their arms as angels to block Fred Phelps, I cried.

2 – the Laramie Project epilogue at ETHS. One night only. A reunion of sorts. When I saw the graduated members of the cast sit in the front row, I remembered the Angel Action. That doesn’t count though. What does was my daughter Emily as Judy Shepard. Brave and sad and angry and hopeful and amazing.

3 – Eastland at Lookingglass. Andy White’s story of the people on the Eastland, the day the boat sank off Chicago, was lyrical and heartbreaking and universal. My face hurt because I cried so much in the second act.

4 – the final scene in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The nuns are condemned to death by the revolutionary tribunal and they walk to the guillotine singing a “Salve Regina” against a chorus that is not musically related to the prayer. As they are executed, the women’s voices drop out, one by one. The rest of the opera was great but this took my breath away. And I cried.

5 – the Slaughter of the Innocents in the Chester mystery plays 2013. This is right before intermission, the climactic end to Act 1, and as Herod commands that all newborn boys be executed, the mothers arrive on stage. They do not fight or weep. Accompanied by the a cappela Coventry Carol the mothers hold what appear to be their children, swaddled in blankets. Each mother in turn drops her child to reveal a flag of a country where every day innocent children are losing their lives to war and genocide. They stood there, helpless, wordless. The most beautiful moment in the entire play cycle. The gentleman in front of me was also struggling with tears.

Is there a theme? It seems that there is. When the theatre can make a moment universal, can take an individual’s sorrow and bring it forward, make it ageless, then it moves. At least that is when I am moved.

Image – Pietro Testa circa 1640 Massacre of the Holy Innocents black ink over red chalk – at the Scottish National Gallery.

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