Tuesday, August 21, 2012

love looks not with the eyes

Last night, I watched the Notre Dame Summer Shakespeare's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream outside in front of the Golden Dome as the Golden Hour hit. It was absolutely magical, as any production of Midsummer should be. It brought back so many memories, made my heart ache, and made me miss this:

A Midsummer Night's Dream, circa Summer 2010

So. much.

The reality of creating art in an imperfect world with imperfect humans is that the finished product will never live up to your perfect vision. I think artists grasp the insufficiency and fallibility of human nature easily because they encounter it in themselves, and reflected in their art. 

But sometimes, sometimes, you have the joy and honor to create a piece of art that comes so very very close to fulfilling your vision. It's miles from perfect; the execution is far from flawless; but it rings with the glorious feeling that you accomplished what you set out to do. Our Midsummer, the director told me recently (over lavender iced teas in fact. Not an important detail. But it was very good iced tea.)was one of those rare artistic moments when she felt that her perfect vision for this piece of art had been almost nearly achieved. Norman Maclean writes: "One of life's quiet excitements is to stand apart from yourself and watch yourself softly becoming the author of something beautiful, even if it is only a floating ash." Pieces of art like that hold you to a higher standard, because they show you just how beautiful a work you are capable of authoring. And they worm their way into your heart and refuse to budge.

Refusing to budge.
As I watched the play unfold on the quad, there were several themes and moments that, in light of recent conversations, shone with particular brightness.

The beauty of loving another person is the lover saying to the beloved: you are irreplaceable. Midsummer cuts right to the heart of the matter; the theme of the irreplaceable beauty of the beloved permeates the story.
The entire action of the play revolves around the tragedy of loves gone awry; of a lover saying to the beloved: I have replaced you with another

And the comedy of the play also springs from these daft lovers who are constantly replacing their beloveds. The humor arises from the ridiculous and fumbling swaps in affection throughout the play, reaching the glorious comedic climax of Titania's magically-induced passion for Bottom the Weaver. 
Lord, what fools these mortals be, Puck gleefully crows.

And their willy-nilly passions have indeed made fools of them all. The lovers fly into the woods, where the sharp Athenian law cannot reach them, and the only rule is that of Oberon and Titania, spouses locked in a marital spat to end all marital spats. These are two immortals so powerful that their discord has effect on the seasons.
Not beings with whom to be trifled.

The lovers have set themselves loose in a world filled with magic potions, mischievous, meddlesome fairies, and two powerful, passionate beings going head to head. In the woods, jealousy, discord, and distrust reign. Oberon attempts to aide the lovers, but the strife that is creating havoc in his world simply ratchets up the chaos in the lovers' world. Only until Oberon seeks reconciliation with his beloved, until he acknowledges her irreplaceableness to himself, and she accepts him as such, can the four Athenian lovers then find harmony amongst themselves.


In Act IV, Helena's story reaches a pivotal moment. The man who only a couple scenes before has literally "spurned her with his foot" declares his undying love for her.
Okay. Right. I'm gonna call red flag on this one. 
Personally, my reaction would run along the lines of a little something like this:

Suuuureeee, Demetrius. You've only spent the entire play running away from this woman. Okay. Cool. I totally buy that. 
But Helena does believe him. 
I can still hear the melancholic strains of the cello that underscored Demetrius' monologue. And hear the words: And all the faith, the virtue of my heart, the object and pleasure of mine eye, Is only Helena. And in that moment, decide. Decide whether she was going to take this opportunity to spurn the spurner or dive into the danger of believing his words, of returning his love and forgiving his wrongs. 

And risk being hurt yet again.

One of Helena's most beautiful qualities, and one that makes her such an exciting character to play, is her fearless persistence. She never shies away from love. 
I will never forget that feeling--that moment on the precipice of decision. 
To believe or not to believe.
To forgive or not to forgive.
And then deciding.
And running to reconciliation. 

That's one of those moments that makes you realize just how powerful art can be. And it also makes you realize just what a wickedly genius writer Shakespeare is. He created beautiful, complex characters that completely rock. That (in the words of Ms. Frizzle) take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. But you know what they say: The course of true love never did run smooth.

And in the end, the Bard's very human and imperfect characters find their way down the bumpy road of true love to happiness. As Oberon says: And all things shall be peace.

And if that's not heart-warming ending worth of a Jane Austen novel, I don't know what is.

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