Monday, July 4, 2005

Exchangeable Fluids

"Time is a jet plane, it moves to fast/Ah but what a shame, what we shared can't last/I can change I swear, see what you can do/I can make it through, you can make it too..."
-Bob Dylan

Life can be wacky. For example, have you ever thought how yours might be the only thing connecting seemingly otherwise disconnected events? This thought weighed heavy on my mind last Tuesday night as the blue-eyed editor and I went to the Guthrie Theater production of A Body of Water.

Ostensibly the play is about two elderly people who awake one day to find themselves in a home surrounded by a large body of water. They are not sure who they are or how they got there. They don't know if they know each other and they don't quite know what to do to figure out the puzzle that is suddenly their lives.

The play stars veteran actors Edward Herrmann and Michael Learned. Both play their roles superbly. Learned of course is best known for playing the role of Mrs. Walton in the long running Depression era series The Waltons. Seeing her in person in a play all about memory cast my mind back to remembering my Mom's favorite episode of The Waltons. The particular episode centered around the townsfolk of Walton's Mountain succumbing to their fear surrounding the happenings overseas in Germany. They decide they can't trust those in the community with German ancestry even though that yesterday these people were perfectly respectable members of the community. The persecution leads to a destruction and purging of all things deemed German. John Boy becomes enraged by this behavior particularly when the town's priest leads a book burning. Turns out one of the books being burned is a German version of the Bible. That's when the town's folk come to their senses and realize how their paranoia has gotten the better of them.

Mom was very fond of this episode and I think a lot of her fondness came from John Boy's passion in standing up to a mob and standing for what is right even though it takes tremendous independence to not give into the group think mentality. If there is one thing my Mom tried to teach me it was to think for myself no matter what the outside pressure may be.

The other thing that somehow came to my mind as the story of Body of Water unfolded is something our current governor, Tim Pawlenty, used to say all the time as I watched him when he was the House of Representatives Majority Leader. As the Legislature was coming to one of its many showdowns and looming disintegration, someone from the other side of the aisle would invariably ask Pawlenty what the upcoming schedule would be. The majority leader would predictably say that late in the session things were "fluid" meaning that members should remain flexible because schedules and events could change in a moments notice.

What do my Mom's favorite episode of The Waltons and Tim Pawlenty's cliché have in common? Probably nothing except the electricity in my own feeble mind. But as I was sitting there in the dark with the blue eyed editor, who has had a rough couple of weeks of the variety I'm sure that she wishes she could somehow erase her short term memory, I couldn't help but be quite affected by the play's themes. As the two elderly characters try to come to grips with their predicament they are joined by a young woman (Michelle O'Neill) who could be their daughter, could be their attorney, could be someone who has kidnapped them for some mysterious nefarious purpose or could be all of the above.

The young woman tells the two lost souls differing stories about who they are. They are not sure if they should believe some of her accounts. Did they really commit a heinous crime? Are they suffering from some type of cruel age related disease that robs them of everything except brief moments of coherency? What can you believe when you can't remember anything that has happened in the past? The play makes clear how our memories not only shape who we think we are, but what we think the purpose of our lives might be. If we were to wake up every day with no memory of where we had been or where we came from or where we are to go next it can be a frightening thing. How does one learn to exist in the moment if one doesn't know what has happened before?

The play's plot could be sabotaged by its gimmicky premise yet Learned and Herrmann give such convincing performances one can't help but sympathize mightily with their predicament. What a delightful play.

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