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July 17, 2007

The Footlights

This weekend saw Joel and I performing in the Vermillion Community Theatre’s production of Our Town.

Joel in the wings

Our Town is one of the most-often produced straight plays in America. The show’s brilliance lies not in its spectacle or its plot, but rather its determined unassuming-ness. The directed absence of sets, backdrops, props, and all the other bells and whistles of theatre that make audiences murmur “ooo” and “ahh” is a vehicle for its genius. In my opinion, Our Town’s genius is its simple depiction of life’s moments – moments that are universal for many. Beyond this straightforward portrayal of the breakfast table conversation or a quick exchange between neighbors, the play will especially shine if the people in your own neighborhood, in your own town, act out those moments. That is why I think Thornton Wilder’s play is so often performed; because it is terribly moving to see your friends and family live, love, marry, and die framed by the safe, sacred proscenium arch and cast in the glow of the footlights.

Steve in the lights

Even as a participant in the production, the chance to sit in the hushed quiet backstage and watch a friend from church portray the play’s newspaper editor or see the guy who played the show’s milkman on my daily afternoon walks with Adelaide is a chance of a lifetime. Suddenly, I am in a meta-moment. I am watching myself watch my neighbors playing my neighbors and me on stage for an audience of my neighbors. It was a cool experience.

Sets in spotlights

This show, however, was even more poignant because my participation was fraught with anxiety. Working an evening job, missing many rehearsals, running my daughter from the arms of one child care provider to the next, connecting with Joel each day via cell phone alone, skipping the laundry or a sink full of dishes for an hour’s nap, while trying to be a good actor and a good scenic designer/artist was hard. I’ve had many, many brilliant, fantastic moments here in Vermillion, and none are dearer to my heart than those moments I have enjoyed while treading the boards in VCT’s summer productions. But, I am glad to have a chance today to sigh, smile, and consign the moments of Our Town to memory.

Aimee in the wings

It was an amazing run, but we quickly move into the next stage of commitments … Like listening to the last chapters of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince before the final installment is released this weekend.

July 8, 2007

The Most Basic Jokes

Language, movement, and feelings- all start in our lives with the simplest and most basic elements upon which we grow and build. When I see Adelaide walking and talking and kissing her friends, I remember the little lump that waved her hands with great urgency but incredible vagueness. And now... well, let me just summarize the whole thing by holding up an acorn, and then gesturing demonstratively at a mighty oak tree.

And so it is with making jokes. Adelaide's first joke was a little cruel: shortly after she started feeding herself, Adelaide found that she enjoyed carefully reaching over and placing food in my mouth. Soon after that, in the midst of eating, she would move as if to feed me, then, as I obediently opened up, she would suddenly cram the food back in her mouth and laugh her head off. Ha! You thought you were going to get some peas! But I ate them! Boo-hoo, papa! (She seemed to say.)

She's come up with some other jokes since then. She likes to stand in plain sight and very quietly say, "Boo," subverting the whole "I-did-something-startling-to-make-you-react" paradigm with devastating irony. She likes to unroll the toilet paper into the toilet bowl. She thinks its funny when I pretend to eat her foot.

As far as I know, she's never seen someone squish their face against a window to make it grotesque, so the other day, when she seized a transparent plastic lid, I was surprised at how naturally she employed it: