must come to an end. And, thus ends our week at the National Thespian Festival. And what a way to end our time here: we saw "The Little Mermaid" on the large stage at 3 PM. The students were gifted, and the staging was impressive. There were blue LED lights that gave the impression of the ocean which raised and lowered, depending on whether we were above or "under the sea." There were aerialists on silks and ropes (coming to a fall play at Montoursville near you ... #dontbelievemejustwatch). There were beautiful puppets and Ursula was on a creative stand with wheels operated by 8 kids in black morphsuits who also articulated her tentacles.
After a farewell dinner at Panera and some coffee at Starbucks like proper white girls, we went to the smaller theatre, Kimball Hall, to see "Unexpected Tenderness," a play about a family that breaks a cycle of domestic violence presented by a troupe that has no actual performance venue in their school. These talented and insightful students practiced for nine months in their choir room in Wyoming before staging the show in a community theatre and at their state festival.
The script is expertly written. Instead of creating a black-and-white dichotomy between the bad guy (abusive dad) and the good guy (mom who is doing her best to make the family happy), the play shows those very real gray areas which make it so difficult to leave an unhealthy relationship. The dad is sorry after he has outbursts, he cries, he begs for forgiveness and promises to change. There are moments of love and joy and romance. There is also a history of the women in the family accepting the "crazy" men in their lives, yet in one poignant scene, the grandmother begs her grandson not to "roar like a lion" like her husband and son have done.
In a sad twist of misunderstanding, the mother quickly goes from being the target of unwanted advances from her husband's co-worker, to the victim of her husband's jealous rage. The family is forever changed as a result.
Maintaining realism, the script features several comedic moments, about which one of my students admitted to feeling guilty for laughing. We had a good conversation on the way back to the dorm about why it really was acceptable to laugh at those moments, and how important it was for the playwright, director, and actors to portray an accurate picture of the complicated nature of domestic violence. It is not as simple as a woman deciding to leave a man she has built a life with, a man with whom she has had children. Because she believes in the possibility of him changing, because she wants a stable environment for her children, she may find herself tolerating or justifying an unhealthy situation.
While I fully appreciated all the musicals we have seen this week, I love a good play -- and "Unexpected Tenderness" went far beyond "good." The thought-provoking performance was the perfect ending to a fantastic week of theatre education.