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Director's Note: I AND YOU

May 25, 2018

“I and this mystery— here we stand.” Anthony enters Caroline’s world speaking these words, words that she is unprepared to hear, let alone understand. Their relationship begins in mystery. How do two strangers come together? How do they begin a conversation, and then come to hear, respect, and love one another despite their differences? How is such a thing possible? Those words that Anthony speaks are from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass—his sprawling free verse poem that bursts with music, energy, and optimism, that calls upon the Civil War-ravaged American people to shout, sing, and embrace their oneness despite the brutality, division, and destruction they have suffered. He speaks with a voice that honors us all, the common people, and calls upon us to “keep encouraged.” Anthony and Caroline are just kids—two high school students who have homework to do, basketball games to play, music and waffle fries to share, and parents to manage. They also struggle under the weight of challenges that people so young should not have to bear. This is familiar territory to us, isn’t it—the spectacle of young people ravaged by trauma, who find their unity and their voice and teach us that there is hope.

A wise friend taught me that a gift is not a gift until it is received, and that to receive is an act of courage and is itself a gift. Sometimes a gift may come to us when we are not aware of it. I believe that this play is a gift. Our playwright Lauren Gunderson has written that a play can be viewed as a benediction: “In the church I went to as a kid [….] I remember our pastor walking the same path up the center aisle at the close of every Sunday service. His arms reaching forward and out, his black robe becoming large in it’s spread, his slow pace, his open eyes, and him saying: ‘And now go into the world with open hearts and minds.’ It was an encouragement to take what you felt and learned inside and go use it outside. I quickly switched my source of deepest connect from church to theatre as a young woman. But I still appreciate the theatricality of church, and the churchiness of theatre. At their best, they both gather people together, both tell important stories, both use the emotional lift of music and art, and both send us out into the world with more empathy, compassion, creativity and wonder. And they both contain benedictory power.”

Whitman, too, wrote passionately of the benedictory power of art in his prologue to Leaves of Grass—words that are offered as a gift from Anthony to Caroline and to all of us: “This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem.”

-JoAnn Johnson

 

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