Being Alive

Back at the beginning of the year I had a little run of posts in this blog that were triggered by songs from musicals. Something came to me back then that I decided to hold for today. I didn’t start writing the entry, just made a mental note that this would be the perfect theme for today.

November 4, 2006 we saw John Doyle’s revival production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company. The original production back in 1970 was unconventional in it’s use of the main characters for all singing with no chorus whatsoever. Doyle developed an even more streamlined version of the show where the cast also performed as the orchestra, on stage, in character. It sounds gimmicky, but it really worked incredibly well.

The musical is about Robert, a single man surrounded by married friends. It opens with a surprise birthday party for his 35th birthday. The friends urge him to make a wish and blow out the candles on his cake. He blows out the candles, but then says he didn’t make a wish. The show proceeds as a series of vignettes of  with Robert and his married friends and three girlfriends. There really isn’t a plot, rather the theme is about Robert’s continued status as an outsider, observing the lives of his married friends, but never joining them. I can appreciate that outside observer thing a lot more now that I did back when I saw the show, it has been my default worldview for the past six months.

There is a line from “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” (sung as a trio by the girlfriends) that I always loved: “You impersonate a person better than a zombie should”. That’s how I feel about myself lately. It is almost as if there is a transparent film between me and the rest of the world. I go places, spend time with friends, and that is what is keeping me sane, but somehow I can’t seem to feel fully present. It’s a little inside-out from the show, because I know I’m a zombie and I’m not sure my friends realize how distant I really am.

The second act starts with another surprise birthday party, and another cake with no wishes. The eleven o’clock number is “The Ladies Who Lunch”, a position Barbara always joked about wanting to attain. Barbara Walsh knocked that one out of the park. The show ends with Robert asking himself the question about marriage “what do you get?”

His answer is the best definition of the wonder and terror of a real marriage I can think of: “Being Alive

Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep.

Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell.

Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.

Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who’ll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive.

Sitting there in the Barrymore six years ago, I knew I had that someone right next to me.

AMY: Blow out the candles, Robert, and make a wish. *Want* something!
Want *something*!

ROBERT:
Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I’ll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!

In that theater, I was so glad I wasn’t Robert, that I had found my someone very early in life, that we had been the one our single friends looked at when they tried to figure out what they got. We knew.

The show ends with the friends waiting for Robert to show up for another surprise birthday party, but he never answers. Eventually they get the message, that he is not going to show up, because he is done with being an observer in other peoples’s lives. As they leave and say “Happy birthday, Robert” we see him standing alone, blowing out a birthday candle, and finally making a wish.

Happy Birthday to me, another milestone I charted out ahead of myself months back. Now I’m alone, but I’m still not Robert. I didn’t just watch it, I remember being alive. I miss it, a little, a lot.

I know what I’m wishing for today. One way or another, I am going to stop being that zombie.

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