Remember mac & cheese with a side of sloppy green beans? I stuck to tuna sandwiches. The first time I got in the lunch line in third grade, a little boy asked if he could stick his hotdog in my bun.
Remember the hairbrushes those school-picture photographers used? We were so little they mistook us for Barbies. But my hair knotted just as bad as any lipstick-wearing woman.
Remember when I played Peter Rabbit? And the Gingerbread Man? Running to stand next to a set piece meant a change in location. (Somehow we’ve grown pickier in our theatrical sensibilities.)
Remember when that second grader burst her appendix at snack time? We thrilled at the woo-woo of the ambulance. We all wished something would explode inside our bodies too so that we’d get to lay on that bed with wheels with those big manly strangers.
Remember the foster mom that started a Daisy troupe? We met after school and made necklaces with multi-colored pipe cleaners, t-shirts with our handprints painted on them, new friends—the silver kind, not the gold—and counted cookie orders.
Remember the Mother’s Day fashion show? I wore my hot-pink-splatter-paint-leotard with jellies and a leopard-print-lined-denim-jacket on top. When did we learn how to strut our stuff?
Remember our first chemistry lesson? When we ran around flailing our arms about, it meant we were very hot little pieces of the same thing. And when we slothed around in slow-motion in the middle of the room it meant we were chilly chilly cold.
Remember rainy days, when we were all corralled into the MultiPurposeRoom at once? Our criss-crossed knees touched as we traded our carrots for fruit rollups with peach-juice fingers. Peanut butter stuck to the roofs of our mouths and our little bodies got sweaty underneath our Pooh and Tigger sweaters.
Six angels are scattered across the stage. They are in black robes with gold tassels around their necks. Each has a red pendant above their heart. They are standing still, facing a seventh figure. They are pulsing with life, a vibrant calm as they drink in his words. He is human. He is sickly. But he is impassioned.
“Bless me anyway.”
The right angles and bright lights of the inverted set fade out of focus as this man argues for a life of suffering. He takes a breath and I notice the spines of the angels, the actors erect and ready under their robes.
“I want more life.”
I suddenly wonder why children create worlds and act out stories. The cast of Angels in America may as well be a herd of children performing that day’s play for their family. The Signature Theater on Theater Row may as well be my living room, with dusty dusk light streaming in at a sunset angle. At this point I’ve fallen in love with 95% of the characters (and actors, of course—that happened fast), have a cramp under my right boob from laughing so hard, and somehow my hair got all greasy from all the crying I’ve done.
“I can’t help myself.”
And it is their earnestness, the purity with which these artists invite us on the journey they have to share, the wildness of their imagination, and utter devotion to their collective voice, to their story, to humanity that startles me into my most recent revelation on the depth of play.
Through the relative we are unleashed into the absolute. We see a humans expose their inner life, through images or sound or movement or the presence of their body, and we are freed to recognize and even express the tensions trapped in our own bones—our fear of death, our knotted traumas, our bounding joy upon seeing the leaves glisten on the asphalt backdrop and hearing nature’s eternally original score of rain on our umbrellas and smelling the wet earth that will follow us no matter how deep into the city we go. This art reconnects us with the world in which we live, the complex and changing individuals around us, and the ebbing emotional, intellectual, imaginative, and knowing world within ourselves. This is the art I want to see. This is the art I want to make. I want to free others the way their stories have freed me.
Stories have taught me that we are not alone. We each suffer pain and a sense of imperfection. We each have the capacity for ecstasy and love.
By Sophia Treanor