Thursday, September 22, 2011

'Lessons From Hamlet'

I received an email this week from the detective in Cedar City letting me know that the DNA test for the man they think might be my father has still not been processed. The great father mystery continues.

Excerpt from 'Bohemian Cowboy' (Doing Las Vegas With Hamlet)

"It's now about one in the morning, and we decide to get some breakfast at Denny’s where we have a chance to really talk. We mostly talk about our relationships with our fathers. I find out that Hamlet's father was also gone much of his life.

Even though we are divided by time and history, we both come to the conclusion that all of history is pretty much the same when it comes to understanding the nature of a father and a son. No matter how close a son gets to his father, or how far away he might feel, the search for a father never really has an ending.

I tell him that I’m driving to The Valley of Fire for one last look for my father, and I’m excited by the prospect of having some company on my journey, because I’m really a little unstable and also because I think we would make a hell of a search team."

He sadly looks at me, and declines to go, “Not because I don’t want to, but because its something that you need to do alone,” he says, “besides, its time for me to 'go back to the stars…" I'm not sure what he means by this, but I notice he looks more like a ghost than before, he's beginning to fade.

End of excerpt.

One of my favorite but most difficult parts of Bohemian Cowboy is the time I got to spend on stage with Hamlet. It is also a point in the play where I have to make my way into the desert and allow my father to come and explain his disappearance. I remember the first time I saw Hamlet, it was my sophomore year in high school, in an English class with Mrs. Jackson. She played an old English version of it in class, and I remember thinking, "This cat is really struggling with his life…" It was one of the few times in high school when I started paying attention. In college, when I had a monologue to perform, it was usually from Hamlet. I read the play at least twice a year, watched every film version and as I say in the play, "The year my father disappeared I saw three productions of Shakespeare's Hamlet…" That year, I even traveled to NYC to see the Wooster Group do their version. At the opening of the play when the ghost of Hamlet's father began speaking to him in regard to his murder, I had a 'real' anxiety attack for the first time. For hours, I considered the stress it must have caused Hamlet, the ghost of his father speaking to him and asking him to avenge his death. I didn't just see it as a theatrical device, I looked at the play from Hamlet's point of view and the ensuing madness it created in him. It was a spiritual experience for me, and as the play went on, Hamlet's reactions were in keeping with the terrible stress of his situation. In college, I remember writing a monologue about a man who comes home from work and there is an angel sitting on his bed, and the angel says, "Go therefore and prepare the way." I deducted that this break from the laws of the universe was a horrible way for a man to commune with God, through an angel, because his life would forever be harassed and changed by this moment, (perhaps, though, that is the point). I deducted that these extreme circumstances would create in a human, a penchant for insanity. Literal angel visitations were always hard for me, because I deduced that the nature of a man's mind is not prepared to process this kind of 'break in' into the natural laws of the universe. Hamlet allowed me for the first time to consider this kind of idea. That didn't stop me from seeking visitations, however, and although I've never been visited by an actual angel, it did create a series of events that led me to believe that God, the creator was real, even though I also deduced that God did not really have to puncture the natural order of scientific law to reveal his existence.

So, what did I do? I created a theatrical device where I could puncture the natural law of the universe to allow a visitation from Hamlet. I've done this in many of my plays, notably Blue Baby, A Memoir, where Jesus knocks on a man's door which he cannot physically open. This happens several times with different spirits, (Sartre, Hyrum Smith) until at last the door is opened to allow the spirit of a beloved aunt into the room to speak a message. This was also a break-through for me spiritually, because it allowed me to consider different spiritual beings having influence on my life, so as not to have to rely on one specific benevolent God.

Before any of my Bohemian Cowboy shows, I always took the time to call and draw on the spirits of those I thought were close. Perhaps this kind of experience has created a certain madness in the way that I think about things—perhaps I wasn't prepared for the post—part of the process, when the visitations and interactions stopped. For me, I admit that doing the show was a lot about seeing my father again for explanations, but it was also about getting to evoke the spirit of Hamlet, my Grandfather, and many other spirits. This is the power of theatre, and I realized that through Shakespeare's Hamlet.

So, now I come to the apex of these ideas, as I struggle with a seemingly anxiety ridden separation from God. The idea that sin is what separates is difficult for me, because it always seems like in a certain kind of madness I can see God. That moving closer to death is moving closer to God. It does seem, however, that humans seem to want to create an order of ritual, (which I totally understand) so that we can return to God without upsetting or disturbing a group or groups of people. There were days this summer, when I did my best to break the barrier with God, perhaps I did it unto understanding the fragile bridge between life and death. Except my experience has taught me that supposed madness isn't necessarily a bad thing for some people, that getting to God has to be met with extreme circumstances, and not just wisps of wind during a prayer. Much like the declaration of an early patriot, (I forget his name) "Give me liberty or give me death!" If you change liberty to God, it's not a far stretch of the imagination to have this desire. As I think back on all that happened, it makes perfect sense to me that the circumstances were created for me in my insanity at the time, but as some of you know, this is not a new way for me to 'get at God', or even 'get with God'. I've had to go to these extremes for years, because it seems I have to have a real experience in order for me to have this communion. The 'sin' isn't removed from my life because of repentance so much as its removed to stave of a human death. It's getting back to a purpose while I'm here, getting back to what I can do as a human. A certain madness and an extreme effort is required when one is sick, or when one can only find God by punching a hole through the interior of his life.

I'm feeling better today, but not completely back, perhaps just a bit insane, which I think, it a good thing.

Note: My work in theatre has always been in pursuit of punching holes into the interior life to make some connection to God. Its also why my plays are often disturbing. I never sought to write raw plays for merely the shock value. The theatre for me has always been this searching, (sometimes finding) of new ways to look at the questions between God and man. Perhaps its why I have lived the kind of 'edgy' life I've lived, taking chances and challenging the notion that it is not all what we are told it is. As I get older, I notice as the body and mind age, that many of those I've known all my life have chosen to ease into comfortable death. I'm just not made that way, but I can, I suppose, live a little more prudently so that I can keep punching holes into the interior of my life. These are indeed, lessons from Hamlet, who experienced an early death and a life rife with tragedy. However, it is interesting to note that he did have some assurance of another world where he would go from his father, albeit meeting a tragic death. I've lasted this long, with some wind in my sails I think "Its not over, its really just another beginning..."

1 comment:

kanyonland King said...

Fathers and sons. Fathers and daughters. Our tie to father is spider-webs, suddenly binding us into immobility when we least expect it. There are a thousand strands that hold and bind and pull where we may not want to go.
My father was smart, but not kind.
My father demanded work, never just asked and was not grateful for what was done. My father called me dumb and stupid for doing something wrong or not knowing what to do, never bright or brave for doing right. My father was there and expected me to be there too. I was. His daughters became what he could not ignore. He was angry. He suffered. He listened to daughters he could not ignore.
I do not like fathers or ghosts of fathers who call for revenge. Hamlet was tragic because he listened. Fathers should think about what they ask.
ask for revenge???