Friday, November 04, 2011

The Tempest

The Tempest cover art by Val Bochkov

Last night I saw a really wonderful production of The Tempest at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. I thought it was fantastic. A truly magical and enlightening theatre experience, which is what one often hopes for, but doesn't always get, when one goes to a play.

I say this, too, as someone who has never particularly liked The Tempest. I enjoy Shakespeare very much, but The Tempest has never really resonated with me (maybe because I'd never seen a production of that moved me like last night's did). It always seemed that Prospero was just being a jerk and meddling in the lives of those around him or who wronged him. I never empathized with him, and he's pretty much the focus of the show.

I was in a production of The Tempest about 16 years ago. It was my first time doing a full-length Shakespearean play. I had a very small part and, frankly, didn't know what I was doing. But I was very excited (and yes, scared) to be doing Shakespeare for the first time (aside from class work) in front of an audience.

I fully confess I didn't "get" the play at the time, and maybe that, too, is why I've never quite attached to it. But last night was a revelation. Some of the themes which seem so obvious now somehow eluded me when I'd read or seen the show in the past.

I realized that much of the play is really about Prospero learning to let go; letting go of his anger and need for vengeance against those who wronged him even though they did, indeed, wrong him; letting go of those whose lives he's tried to control; letting go of his need to control everything; letting his daughter grow up; letting go of bitterness, letting go of his magic, letting go of the things that hold him back, etc. Somehow I missed all that even though it's so plain and obvious.

I found the director's notes quite enlightening. The production was directed by Chuck Morey, with whom I have worked before, and who I think is quite a brilliant director.

Chuck wrote, "The Tempest is about sin and redemption, revenge and mercy, black magic and white magic - but ultimately about grace. I use the term not totally but certainly in resonance to its theological meaning: 'being at one with God.' In secular terms you might alter that to read: 'being at one with oneself and one's place in the universe.' It is, in effect, a long meditation on that profound tow-word line from Hamlet, 'LET BE.' The progress of the play is very distinct: Prospero's movement from a state of anger and need for revenge to forgiveness, acceptance, peace - a state of grace. Prospero's journey also has something of a Faustian arc to it as well: the man who has achieved much but seeks more and studies the occult not for the sake of knowledge itself, but in an attempt to control not only the human world, but the natural and even the supernatural and in so doing endangers his very soul."

Seeing this particular production made me see The Tempest in a completely fresh and different way. I also thought the costumes and special effects were used very well. The first three or so minutes of the show were completely with dialogue and set the mood beautifully. Just those first three minutes were worth my time.

There were also many unspoken moments that are not directly in the text, but are certainly supported by it that made so much of the play more clear and relevant to me.

I thought about how the play relates to me personally: the things I hang on to or carry that ultimately are not useful to me. I thought about how gay people can find peace with themselves and with God or "at one with oneself and one's place in the universe" when society, religion, and other forces don't always make that very easy. How can people be comfortable in their own skins, wherever they are in life? What are the things we carry that are harmful to us? If we've been wronged (by a person, an organization, or our life experiences, for example), do we hang on to the anger and bitterness and need for vengeance or retribution, for example? Is it helping or hindering our souls to do so? Do we hang on to old habits or customs as a crutch or do we really need them? How do we let go of things?

These are themes that have really resonated with me the past year or so, and I think I saw this production at a perfect time when these questions were already running in my brain.

I've always loved the theme of redemption and forgiveness in movies, television, and literature. I have a hard time believing that anybody is incapable of receiving forgiveness and redemption if they are truly penitent. I also think that those who are unable or unwilling to forgive do more damage to their own souls than to the souls of those who have wronged them. Their inability or unwillingness to forgive may be justifiable or understandable, but I still maintain that holding onto negative feelings isn't good for a person's soul.

I truly feel at peace in my life, and I am grateful for that because it is something that eluded me for many years of my life. I do feel comfortable in my own skin. I don't tend to hang on to grudges or negative feelings. That doesn't mean there still isn't stuff in my life that I ought to get rid of, but I feel I'm doing well. I am happy. More and more I believe that God doesn't care one whit whether I am gay or not. I think He's more interested in my ability to improve my own life and the lives of those around me; to love and be loved; to be happy; to be joyful; to build people up; to help; to serve. Those are the things I think He is most looking at. I truly believe that God is happy that I am happy. My life is better than it was 6 years ago. No doubt about it. And I think that's the best testimony of all.

I'm going to the Circling the Wagons conference tomorrow. Not sure what to expect, but I am interested to see what it wants to be and what it ultimately is and am interested to hear the experiences of others to whom the subjects of homosexuality and Mormonism are important, wherever they may be in their own journies.

The Tempest closes tomorrow (Saturday). Go see it if you can. I highly recommend it.

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