Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Got Change?

Today I went on a field trip with my son's school. I eagerly chaperoned a group of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders at the Shakespear Theater for a performance of Richard III. What a treat! Never mind that Michael Kahn had directed this impressive production. He always has the most interesting way of treating the script - giving it thematic focus, encouraging creative character development and scene-setting. But, when the play began and the curtain went up, we were struck by the off-kilter nature of the set. All of the horizontal pieces - with the exception of the floor itself - were leaning at a severe angle. The in-your-face quality of the industrialized adaptation of medieval architecture was, well, in your face. You couldn't miss the connection or the connotation that this story was taking place in a world that was off balance. The set was also very dark to match the dark nature of the main character.

If you are unfamiliar with this particular Shakespearean interpretation of historical events, in a nutshell, this is a nutty family. (The movie still above is from an outstanding adaptation of this play set in 1930's fascist Europe - I highly recommend it.) Can you say dysfunctional? I knew that you could. Basically, Richard III is disformed and disfigured both physically and emotionally. Evil has come to dwell in his heart and he seems to have no capacity for compassion or mercy, only for conniving and manipulation. He kills off family members, including two young boys, one by one in order to gain accession to the throne. Try as they might to change his progress, to stop him from gaining another foothold, they each find themselves submitting to his flattery and false confidences.

However, just as he gains the throne, things begin to go awry as the young man Richmond flees and returns with a militia prepared to fight him and give him his due. In a stunning final couple of scenes, we watched the parallel scenes as two very different leaders prepared themselves and their men for a fight to the death. On the one hand was Richard who went to bed restless, a bowl of wine in hand. As he slumbered fitfully he was visited by all the dead he had slain and they each cursed him in turn. At the same time, Richmond prepared for a healthy night's sleep by dropping to his knees and submitting to God in prayer. Once asleep, peacefully, he also was visited by each of the departed souls. But they in turn offered him blessings and prayed to God for his victory. Guess who won the battle?

So God triumphs over evil and the glimmer of hope and change begin to emerge with the death of the evil Richard. It was a fantastic production.

And then to top it all off, cast members came back on stage after removing their costumes to answer questions and have a conversation with the students. The kids from the various schools in the audience asked some wonderful questions and provoked some great comments from the actors and production staff. But there was one question hanging in my mind that I didn't get to ask. I wondered how portraying a character in a play like this one - literally living into the story of such proportions - changes the actors personally. I mean, how can you NOT be changed by personifying such vivid characters and experiencing their humiliation, sorrow, hope and despair?

You see, the goodness of human nature was truly challenged in this play and it was only able to triumph in the character who removed himself from this tilted world and returned fortified by prayer and submission to God. Talk about metanoia...(see the post below). Certainly the play carries the message that we can't save ourselves. That our best efforts will not always match up squarely against the advances of evil and that the only way to overcome such dastardly and dire circumstances is to get out, away from the darkness, away from the precipitous nature of evil that can insidiously draw us in and then dash all hope. We must move to a new place in our lives to be free of the bondage of evil and ill intent and to be able to reconnect with God.

What is the evil or darkness that you confront in your own life? What is the means by which you are insidiously taken in? Flattery? Promises of reward? Promises of power? How can you find a place apart? Where can you go to put some space between you and the darker side of things? Are you able to sleep peacefully or are you cursed by fitful sleep and visited by memories of the wrongs you have done? What are the words of prayer that you would utter?

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