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Stories of ordinary people

There is the factory girl, the immigrant, the son of the truck driver and the lonely lady who owns the bar. These are just ordinary people, people who come and go, grapple with life’s manipulations and tribulations. They are not self serving types. They do not blame their circumstances on others, rather they are merely dreamers searching for a way to improve or change the conditions of their days and weeks and years.

The factory girl is spunky, outspoken, denying but entranced by the fellow who works at the park. She keeps returning ,magnetized by his charisma, fascinated and like the moth to light drawn to danger.

The immigrant born in the Carribean knows he’s an outsider. Constantly his upbringing is the hand that smacks him and taunts him, causing him to talk too much but somehow his sense of self pushes him forward to excel beyond his caste in society.

The son of the truck driver also feels locked up by the closeness of his upbringing on a street where his cousins have inhabited forever. He spies a guitar, takes his mom’s pay check for lessons, but cannot commit to lessons. So he quits, bumbling around, disquieted by his circumscribed life.

And the woman who was once married is bored but resigned to her café in a hot and dreary place where nothing ever changes,she reminiscing about the romance of movie stars.

These human stories, these snippets of nondescript people we know personally, whom we pass on the street were the windows through which I peered last week, gleaning their tales, their thoughts in New York. The stuff of stories on Broadway, the quiet, unassuming, penetrating experiences of those quiet introspective types trying to figure out where home is and why they must stay or seek out alternatives to their present states yesterday, today or tomorrow.

The factory girl is Julie Jordan in Carousel, a mill worker who falls in love with the wrong guy. Standing toe to toe, able to meet him eye to eye but uninterested in committing to him, she does fall and falls hard for the man who is more interested in unlawful deeds than committing to a traditional life of responsibility.Complicated types both she and her guy Bill are torn up by emotions they cannot control, she rationalizing and standing by her man, acknowledging but unable to leave his abuse. In this retro piece, Julie at first is admirably strong but cannot move away from his flame.

Strangely for a modern day audience, we are shown Bill’s fate in which the playwrite produces on stage a surrealistic landscape of an in-between heaven populated by angels in ragged flounced gauze. Bill is allowed to return to earth for a final chance at redemption, but his strong “ man’s” inability to confess his weakness underlines his hubris.The strong man shown weak, the weak woman made strong by the difficulties of life, their voices made eloquent in songs that have persisted although the dramatization renders an anachronism, sweet but perhaps silly. The strains of “You’ll never walk” alone divorced from Jerry Lewis’s telethon now an ardent plea for the desire for help when the everyday storms threaten to topple you.

The Caribbean is Alexander Hamilton , Lin -Manuel Miranda’s brilliant creation of the driven outsider whose brain, wit and insight propel him upward in society to sit beside and guide George Washington. His writing , his thinking, his intelligence and charisma are the catalysts to upper class society, marriage and the builders of the emergent America of 1776. Still his jealous arch rivals, especially Aaron Burr, riddle his life with intrigue, opposition, betrayal and eventually death. There has been,as well, love by the upper class Schuyler girls, but instead of the tickle of fame, it is the power of a sexual liaison that undoes Hamilton’s rise in government. Hamilton cannot be praised enough, music, acting, words, the trajectory of events reaching out to grab, shake and mesmerize those present , privileged to share the hopes of the boy who comes to America and suffers by the hands of his jealous rivals who lack values that transcend petty personal gains.

It is Springsteen who is in a sense the American Dream as he stands before us, reciting poetry others have gleaned in his music. Not a fan, I am drawn in by the words that create indelible images of his mother’s high heels that clack along the floor that turn into slow dancing steps as she declines into Alzheimer’s; and the tension at the bar when as a boy he is sent to wrestle his father from his stool, a man with haunches like a rhinoceros: these words that hold fast in my mind .So much and so deep a Catholic he marvels how well his education has seated that religion in his soul. Yet desperate to leave the shelter of his small town, he flees as fast as he can in an open back truck under the canopy of night stars. His language of a young man’s pain piercing his own present day successful acceptance.

And the other lady, Dena, a typical Israeli in Betatikvah not Petatikvah who plays host to The Band’s Visit entertains an Egyptian musician from Alexandria for one night , he along with his fellow band members , witnessing the life of those out of work, aimless, who roller skate, cry out their fears, meet at cafes, listen to the baby’s cries, the belligerent racist, who go on existing, their own silent music also producing a rhythm.

As in the best books, we lose ourselves in the narratives of those who resemble, maybe a lot or a little, ourselves, reminding us of our own struggles, our boredoms, our helplessness or lack of control, of the bullies, the places and spaces that lock us in, but how passages can be opened even slightly by the temptation of love and human desires. We entrap ourselves in these stories, transfixed, forgetting our own personal anguishes, embracing those who say or sing it more loudly and more eloquently than in the silent thoughts that bang around in our own heads. These people speak and give voice for us, and like augers transform our thoughts into pictures that allow us to stand outside ourselves, creating potent catalysts to release us from ourselves. It is a release, a wonder to truly observe ourselves and as TS Eliot would suggest- knowing the place for the first time and although we view with awe and horror, we watch others involved , knowing the circumstance, the community but freed from the pain of the experiences. Schaudenfraude.

Broadway where every step is in pattern, where every note is perfectly on key, where life is larger than life and we sit in the audience, both watcher and participant, acknowledging , knowing in our heart of hearts that a writer has communicated what our fumbled words are unable to express, what our failed looks have failed to connect, what our pinched hearts are feeling. And it is magic. It is what Aristotle imagined in his unities- the pity and the terror of the stage that can trigger a catharsis. Or a moment’s epiphany.

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