Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Don't Let Your Eyes Adjust

Throughout the course of growing up, many of us were told we needed to see the world as it really is. We start out in the dark, blind to the injustices of life, and the greater mental illumination comes from letting in the light of what a harsh existence it is out there. If you don't, then it won't be long before life waltzes in on its own and slaps the rose-colored glasses off your face. So it's a good thing, an adult thing, to let the sun shine in. It's the mark of being mature.

I'm not here to deride the truth inherent in this. I just want to remind people not to lose the sense of wonder that comes from being in the dark.

This past weekend, I was privileged enough to see the show "Darwin the Dinosaur" at the Olney Theatre. Geared towards children ages 7 and up, it's definitely not a program I'd recommend bringing a group of your college-age-and-up friends to see. If you have a single good friend or significant other, however, Darwin just might be the most magical experience you've seen on stage.

The space goes completely black, and suddenly two pterodactyls swoop in from the audience. Using puppets illuminated by neon outlines and complex body suits, the Corbian company creates dinosaurs, enormous birds, an undersea voodoo lounge, and a witch doctor who turns his creation loose in the world, and then misses his companion. Darwin, the titular hero, journeys through this world with no dialogue, only music skillfully (though not perfectly) editted to bring us into the journey of the green dinosaur with a heart, guided by his curiosity and desire for love. Opposite this, of course, is the great red dinosaur, Brutus, guided only by his base hunger. A confrontation between the two is, naturally, the climax of the play.

What makes it the experience it is comes from the atmosphere. The artistry is so well-done, the world of the puppets so engrossing, that you just want to become involved. Even at the end when the actors allow a single spotlight on stage which they jump into, one by one revealing themselves as people in costumes, it only enhances the feeling. Because it's not saying "look, it was all pretend," it was saying "yes, this was make-believe, but with enough effort make-believe can be real." The performance was not enjoyable in spite of the constant murmur of children's voices and sometimes shouts at what they saw; it was enjoyable because of the added element of wonder and joy expressed by the audience at every new scene as it unfolded.

There is a lot we have to take in these days, and only increasingly so as we get older. So it behooves us to let our eyes move away from how we saw the world as children. Things are more complex, less cut-and-dry, and what we thought was possible back then simply might not be. But as I sat in that theater, enveloped in darkness, the only thing I could see was the world of Darwin the Dinosaur. Watching what looked in that place, devoid of light, like a genuine dinosaur tromping across the stage and diving into the ocean, I kept thinking only one thing.

Please, just while this show is going on, just for a little while, don't let my eyes adjust.

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