Ezra told me that I would cry during act two of Falsettos, but I don’t cry so much at musicals when I go in cold. You might get a sniffle from me, but unless I’ve listened to the music in advance (Hamilton) or I’m seeing it for the second time (Hamilton, Band’s Visit, Great Comet)… not so much. When I pick up the cast recording after a show, I’m undone. (Spoilers ahead)
And so I took my icy cold heart to Falsetto’s last night with the knowledge that there was a bar mitzvah, a gay dad, a doctor and that Ezra thought I would cry.
Act One is set in NYC in 1979 and in the second song we learn that Marvin has left his wife for his male lover, telling her on the way out to get tested for syphilis and hepatitis. That’s when the specter of AIDS entered the theater and settled into my bones.
I’m 42. AIDS and unplanned pregnancies were the existential threat of our teens and early 20s. Unprotected sex could kill you or derail everything you worked so hard for. I interned in San Francisco in 1996 when life-sustaining drug cocktails were getting approved by the FDA, but so many people had already died and were still at risk of dying. I did a fair amount of programming about HIV-testing as an RA in college and in 2015, worked with people over the age of 50 with HIV in London. I think the existential threat of AIDS and HIV for Gen X is what school shootings are for Millenials and children growing up today.
Something bad was happening. I was undone.
As someone who takes Judaism seriously, I was undone again by Jason’s relationship to his Bar Mitzvah, Judaism and ultimately God. Ultimately Jason prays for God’s intervention.
I was undone again.
I don’t believe that God intervenes in our lives, but I have prayed for God’s intervention. I am comfortable in this uncomfortable, unknowing place.
I wondered about the set. For most of the show, the actors arrange and rearrange large foam blocks into furniture. The idea of an office. The idea of a kitchen. The idea of a bedroom.
For most of Act One, the only prop is a chess board. We get a few throw pillows and a shabbat candles when the mom moves in with her fiance and life finds a routine. But we don’t get real furniture until we are in the hospital.
One by one giant privacy curtains drop from the ceiling and I am undone. Every memory of every hospital visit piles up in my soul and spills out in sobs.
As we walked out of the theater, I tested my theory on my theater companion that the abstract blocks the vague memories of Jason’s traumatic childhood only coming together in vivid realism at the hospital. Later I wondered if the realistic props materialized as the family moved from trauma and depression to love.
In the hospital, we are with a non-traditional, chosen, loving family. Every person is interconnected and every prop is defined. When the family moves back into grief and depression, the blocks return to stage and we are transported to a cemetery.
What a group we four are
Four unlikely lovers
And we vow that we will
Buy the farm arm in arm
Four unlikely lovers
Let’s be scared together
Let’s pretend that nothing is awful
Let’s be scared together. Let’s pretend that nothing is awful.