Saturday, December 2, 2017

Volume XIII, issue ii, November 2017

I am Jud Fry's Mother

My maternal heart fluttered when Ethan casually tossed me the news that he was planning on trying out for "Oklahoma." For years I've vigorously summoned my flock to the piano for "singing time" during Family Home Evening and their lack of enthusiasm and embarrassment at being asked to sing in front of other people was enough to make me think that my girlhood dreams of recreating the French version of the Von Trapp Family Singers would never be realized in all of their draped with drapes musical glory. But Ethan's news was like a bunch of freshly-picked edelweiss.

On a visit to my parents in April, I asked my Dad if he happened to have the musical score for "Oklahoma," and he whipped the song book out faster than you can say "Little Wonder." My Dad had played the part of Pa Carnes during his own high school days (see photo above), and was the perfect musical mentor. With my Dad at the piano accompanying him, Ethan reticently practiced "Lonely Room" and my tears fell in time to the show tune, nostalgic scenes of a younger me belting out "Tomorrow, I love ya!" swimming before me.

My Dad said to Ethan, "Are you sure you want to try out for the part of Jud? If you get the part, you'll have to let the audience love to hate you. Are you prepared for that?"

The reason that Ethan had chosen to try for Jud Fry? Pore Jud doesn't have any stage kisses.

Plus it wouldn't bother him at all to be the villain. His part of choice in all of our Halloween costumes has been the villain, so he's been preparing for years.

I was Ethan's giddy fangirl and accompanist at his audition, so I witnessed the transformation of our achingly sweet teen into the terrifying Jud Fry firsthand and I could see from the raised eyebrows of the directors that he had nailed the audition. The "theater kids" from the high school had our theatrical newbie convinced that he had no chance of getting a part, but they wished him better luck next year and we waited for the call about call-backs.

A few days later, however, Ethan got an email that said he had landed the part of Jud. They hadn't needed to have any call backs for the part because they knew Ethan was their villain as soon as they heard his country snarl in smooth bass tones at the audition.

 I was now Jud Fry's mother.

Eric and I knew exactly where to take Ethan for a celebratory lunch without even needing to say it out loud to each other. The three of us happily dug in to our "Big Jud's Burgers" (with a large fry. . . obviously) and talked about Ethan's theatrical debut.

Even before rehearsals started in the fall, Ethan became fascinated by the traditionally flat way the character had been played. He was determined to cultivate some sympathy for the historically static character, and compassionately studied Jud, carefully considering the plight of this lonely outcast who had never been loved by anyone. Rather than playing Jud as a shallow villain with one angry note being struck repeatedly, Ethan's goal was to play him as a whole melody with some mellow sounds intermingled with the tones of  bitterness. The first time I saw Ethan perform "Lonely Room" on stage, I was struck by the nuance of emotion in Ethan's portrayal of Jud, and the sadness that was at the core of this misunderstood character. 

I know I'm the proud mother, but I wonder a little (pun intended) if perhaps only the kid who would think of the idea would actually be able to pull if off. Ethan's off-stage attitude about people and their flaws helps him to embrace such a colorful mix of friends that sometimes he astounds me. Popularity is a non-issue for Ethan. He simply wants people to feel happy and they do when they're in his presence. He reaches out to and includes the kids who are in the margins with such ease that I don't even think he's aware that he's doing it. 

No one is a "service project" to Ethan because he simply doesn't categorize people that way. He loves and appreciates people as they are so organically and with such deliberate care that it's no wonder that even Jud Fry became his friend. 

With that sentimental context, I don't want you to think for a second that Ethan's Jud wasn't scary. Oh, he was. I even heard of one family who left during intermission because their four-year-old exclaimed, "That man is bad! I want to go home!" (And as you can imagine, Ethan was thrilled with such an enthusiastic review.) When going over his notes after one of their first complete run-throughs, the director said to him, "Ethan, I'm going to give you a compliment which I hope you'll take as a compliment. You are. . . freaking creepy!"

The first time they rehearsed the horrible dream sequence, the girl who played Laurie let out a genuine scream and scurried off the stage at the sight of Ethan's ghastly glare. 

On opening night, Eric and I could only laugh out loud because of  Ethan's convincing on-stage acrimony. It just wasn't Ethan on that stage and it was almost alarming. 
When the elementary school kids were bused over to the high school for a pleasant little matinee, one of the little kids shrieked and cried every time Ethan came on stage, and even though he offered them his most pleasant, non-Jud smile after the play, several of the kids cowered in his presence, and refused to shake his hand or even look him in the eye. Ethan loved it. 

And as good as he was at being the bad guy, my favorite parts were the glimpses of sweetness, the care with which Ethan played him. I adore that Ethan knows that people aren't all bad or all good and that he was willing to shade his performance with that nuanced understanding. Because my sweet (and pardon me for bragging...brilliant) son chose to search for and find reasons to play Jud as a sympathetic character in this production, I've been married to thoughts about the play for most of this month. While I was bothered by the stingingly obvious flaws in the script (the misogyny, the stereotypes etc), I'm actually considerably more bothered by the audience's reaction to the play and to the characters. When evil is obvious, we wrinkle our noses and run away from the stench, but what about the less obvious and considerably more puritanical aspects in the script? The outsider is bullied by the hero and we still somehow see him as heroic rather than appalling. He encourages Jud to kill himself and yet one of my friends was so upset by the glaring sexism that she labeled Curly as a "moral character." 

As he listened to the real people in the audience react to the poorly created fictional characters on the stage, Peter leaned over to me during "Pore Jud is Daid" with a troubled expression, absolutely pale as he whispered, "Mom, why are they laughing? This isn't funny at all." 

While Will and his friends participate in "boys will be boys" behavior, Jud is looked down on for the "pictures" in his room and no one seems to notice the hypocrisy in their behavior. I wouldn't walk out of the play because of anything Jud is or does, but I would be tempted to because of the way both the characters and the audience treat him. Even though his character died at the end of the play, none of the elementary students who were bused in to the dress rehearsal would shake my son's hand after the play. I think this more subtle form of stereotyping is more interesting to talk about because it is real. It isn't a musical. It isn't scripted. It is our life. Sure, the script is nauseatingly outdated and embarrassingly sexist, but I can't stop thinking about the people outside of the play and what we seem to ignore.

We had several hours of good conversations with the kids about allowing people to be loved and not imprisoning them in our assumptions. The play is embarrassingly simplistic and rubs shoulders with what I would label as "unholy," but it can also be used as a vehicle towards instruction about what is holy. I don't love the all...and yet my kids and I are all better people because of the way their big brother and my son chose to love an unlovable character.
(Notice how Ethan broke character for his curtain call and is still holding the weapon that killed him.)

     Breakfast for Champions

My parents and Holden drove to Rexburg from Utah to see Ethan's play, and I realized that, because of my parents' demanding LDS church responsibilities that have taken them all over the world for the past 20 years, it would be the first time my parents have ever been able to see a performance of one of our kids. Needless to say, it was a pretty big deal. 

Because my Dad's October birthday had been only a few days earlier, we surprised him with one of his all-time favorite meals--The Full English Breakfast. 

We soaked beans and whipped up homemade orange marmalade and practiced our British accents while we cooked in our d'Evegnee-style assembly line. My British friend, Elizabeth, offered me both her incomparable culinary expertise and her homemade sausages for the occasion. I tasted one before our feast (you know, the way you have to as the head chef), and offered a piece of the precious pork to Holden and said, "You will never taste a better sausage in your life."

Primary Colors

My adorable trio of Primary kids participated in the yearly church Primary Program the same weekend as the play, so my parents and Holden were able to bask in the hour-long display of doctrine and cuteness. 

When Peter stoically approached the microphone to deliver the self-righteous line he had written himself, he made the rookie mistake of making eye-contact with his older sister. Eve pulled a face at him which made him giggle all the way through "I can help my siblings make good choices." The irony was cringe-worthy and Eric and I rolled our eyes at our little comedy of errors that entertained and delighted the entire congregation. 

One of my friends was sitting right behind us, and after Charlie's part she whispered to me, "He looks like a little prophet in that suit!" 

Marie was serene and sublime as she softly smiled and sang with conviction, looking like Rexburg's version of a pious Audrey Hepburn. 
Puppy Love

Our Charlie is the closest thing my kids will ever have to a puppy. He yips and yaps and scampers at our feet, circling us with his fur-like mane flying. Our cuddly family mascot is generous with his affection, especially if we toss him a few cookies or chocolate chips or "cereal in a bag." He eagerly gobbles up as many treats as he can, but as Eric says, he is such a "Scrawny Prawn." But his stick-like chicken legs somehow support the weight of his hair and personality.

I was going through his backpack and discovered this buried Thanksgiving treasure. Every day of my awful pregnancy with this child was worth it. I would repeat it again and again to produce such a charming little fellow.

Hail to the Prince
When Eric was driving home one afternoon, he beheld the sweet scene of Marie covering Charlie's head with her red "monitor' vest so that he wouldn't get struck by any pieces of the surrounding hailstorm. Our petite mother hen attentively leaned over him and he just strutted along the path towards home as if this was just normal fraternal behavior. 

We like to call them Prince Charles and Saint Marie.

Several times this year, I opened the door to find Marie laden with two backpacks as she sighingly returned from her long elementary school day while Charlie skipped in the door with ease. Earlier this year when he wasn't used to walking the long two blocks home, he would sit down on the sidewalk until Marie was forced to carry his backpack and his coat and his self-respect. 

     You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impressionist

As our debut college freshman, Holden perfectly exudes enthusiasm for academia and is a loyal patron of the Arts available to him at BYU. He was our passionate guide on several artistic adventures during Thanksgiving Break, leading us like a squirmy line of culturally starved little ducklings to the BYU Museum of Art and to the indie-type Broadway Theater in downtown Salt Lake. 

There were two paintings he couldn't wait to show us at the MOA as he calls it and we were almost stunned to silence at their faith-filled beauty. Of course the moment of silence was quickly broken as a chorus of our kids' appreciative analytical comments came flying at us from all directions. It was both transcendent and sublime not only to look at the paintings with our sometimes unruly flock, but to know that they were really appreciating what they saw. They weren't being dragged to the museum--they were earnest participants, which is its own kind of art, especially in the gift that it is to me. 

At Holden's request, we trekked to Salt Lake to watch the gorgeous film "Loving Vincent" which is really more of an experience than simply a movie. Each scene was hand painted in Van Gogh's style and I found myself weeping at both his tragic life and the beauty of such an appropriate homage to the artist. I also loved looking down our row of moviegoers, their little faces lit up by brushstrokes of color (and Charlie's little wiggly legs sticking out at variety of angles during the course of the film. We only had to shush him and tell him to at least try and sit still eight or nine times). 

Driving Miss Frisbee

Mount Timpanogus was our protective backdrop as the kids played Ultimate Frisbee and jumped on the trampoline during the surprisingly sunlit days of our Thanksgiving weekend in Grandma and Grandpa's Eden. I was simultaneously wistful and happy to see the way the kids and Eric played together, becoming less like the stair step children they were only a year or two ago and more like a line of people who are pretty much all the same height. 

A Winter Eden                                                                                                                               by Robert Frost

A winter garden in an alder swamp,

Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year's berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree's young tender bark,
What well may prove the year's high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o'clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life's while to wake and sport. 

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