Sunday, September 27, 2015

Memory and Ritual:
Solace at the Solstice

This past Wednesday was Yom Kippur, and, thanks to our school's Jewish families, we all got the day off from class.  It was also the first day of fall, and I was determined to enjoy, one last time, all my summer activities: coffee, prayer, blogging before sunrise, a walk with the dogs, a long bike ride listening to pleasant conversation on WABE radio, a sandwich from the local deli, a visit with Mom, late-afternoon cooking, and reading.

[Photo: Fall leaves on the Silver Comet bike trail on Wednesday Sept. 23.]

The rush to relive summer's highlights in a day brought to mind a similar day fifty years ago when Dad took me with him on a business flight -- a prop plane with TWA -- from our home in Pittsburgh to see my Grandmother in Cincinnati.

I'd turned six at her home that summer, where I'd learned to ride a bike and to swim.  Grandmother, reminiscing years later, said that I'd returned to Pittsburgh longing to go back to Cincinnati.  When Dad had the opportunity to take me, it was a thrill I still recall.

I remember a sunny day in early fall, breakfast with Mama Craig my great-grandmother, and then a day of touching base with all the places that had been part of our summer routine: I literally touched favorite furnishings in every room of her house (and, years later, after her death, I was able to keep a couple of chairs).  Then we took a ride in her Pontiac all over town: to lunch at Frisch's Big Boy; to visit John and Mary's tiny neighborhood grocery store that survived a few years into the Age of Supermarkets; to run around Frisch's Farm to see horses in the barn, ducks at the pond, and the private merry-go-round; to drop by Grandmother's real estate office in the faux-Bavarian village Mariemont; and, best of all, to ride a bike belonging to one of my eight cousins around the vast estate of my Aunt Blanche and Uncle Jack. 

This past Wednesday, I spent those early morning hours researching developmental psychology for a presentation to seventh graders, and ran across the observation that ritual becomes an important "coping" skill for a five-to-six year old child.  Dealing with first grade and the changes it brought, I'd been in mourning for summer; the ritual re-enactment of summer in a day was comfort enough. I returned home, content.

At 56, when the pressures of things done and left undone wake me in the early hours of the morning, ritual is still a way of coping:  there's a life outside of all the things that worry me, and I'll return to it again. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

School Play "Superheroes" by Ian McWethy
Big on Ha and Aww

[Photo:  Sixth and Seventh Grade actors pose before rehearsal]

Faster than an hour, more roles for actors than a musical, able to make the audience laugh without a single joke:  It's a play!  It's sketch comedy!  It's Superheroes by Ian McWethy.

The laughs came from seeing familiar comic book heroes in their everyday lives.  "What's boring for you," explains the Avengers' Hawkeye to his audience, "to us is really, really boring." There's Batman collecting Bruce Wayne's laundry; Wonder Woman applying for a job with the Avengers; Hulk getting tax advice; Spider-man signing autographs for a fee to pay off credit card debt.

The surprise for me was how often the young actors in these roles elicited sympathy.  Hapless Aquaman, unable to stop a purse-snatcher on land, tries to cheer himself up: "[I found] a Sacajawea quarter: It's a pretty good day for Aquaman!"  Hulk softens when his tax advisor Mia expresses disappointment that he has destroyed his W-2s:  "Hulk respect Mia;  Hulk get Quick Books."  Storm of the X-men tries to get Wolverine fans to appreciate the real heroes in our lives.  Robin speaks from the heart to a sidekick support group:  "When I hang up those tights ... I can be my own superhero."  The audience's heart went out to Aqualad when he confesses:  "There's nothing more depressing than being Aquaman's sidekick. Nothing."

While superheroes are the celebrities in the world of McWethy's play, it's all the everyday people who get the plum parts.  Besides the Hulk's Mia, there's the HR officer who has to break the news to Clark Kent that his glasses aren't fooling anybody.  The audience loved the fast food server scolded by The Batman for omitting the fries from an order.  Spiderman's biggest fan has exposed himself to spider bites four times: "I went to the hospital. I got free ice cream, but no super powers."  Courteous Yorma in the Avengers' front office has to break the news to Green Lantern that his Achilles' heel is a deal - breaker, as "yellow is a primary color."

We had no auditions: kids simply signed up for the part(s) they wanted, the days they wanted to rehearse, and the actors they'd like to work with.  Everyone got something they wanted in at least one of these categories, and it ended up just right.