Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens


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Finding the Hook in your Heart and Soul

I am an unabashed lover of all things Peter Pan.  Aside from the sheer brilliance of the story itself, a tale that speaks to both children and adults, I have always been fascinated by the many permutations and iterations the J.M. Barrie’s convention-breaking stage play about a flying child.  It is a mark of great literature that many readers over multiple generations can find new and interesting angles from which to approach an old story, and Peter Pan may have more retellings and alternate approaches than just about any other story.  Through these retellings, a story stands the test of time.  And time, in the form of threatening adulthood and the deadly Tic-Toc Croc, is the principal antagonist in the story of the Boy Who Never Grew Up.

Finding Neverland is one of the most interesting incarnations of the beloved story.  Based on a play by Allan Knee, the 2004 film presents the story of how the Scottish playwright Barrie dramatically altered his life, challenged London’s strict social norms, befriended a family of young boys who inspired him, and ultimately penned this enduring classic in the face of deep resistance.  It’s a lovely, touching movie.  

In 2015, the story hit Broadway as a stage musical.  Music is a powerful way to touch at your heart, and the show pounds its way into your senses near the end of the first act and never lets go.   

If you know the movie, then you know that the London theater establishment resisted Barrie’s fantastical idea of a children’s play not necessarily for children.  A nanny dog, flying children, and non-verbal fairies seemed like a terrible stretch to the minds of straight laced Edwardian England.  They were right, to an extent.  In the show, Barrie gets called out on his over-exuberant fantasy at the cost of anything interesting:

“You don’t even have a villain,” Barrie is told.  From there, he suffers the loss of all that is important to him.  He is alone.  In his outcast mind, struggling with how to achieve this play that will eventually make history, he is confronted by the darkest part of himself.  James Barrie comes face to face with his shadow self and his iconic villain: James Hook.  Barrie’s alter ego tells him:

 

“No need to be afraid

Every little shackle deserves it’s praise

Time to unshackle all your chains

Don’t be so cowardly I’ll change”

 

In a dark and scary moment for both Barrie and the audience, Captain Hook tells his creator

“You have to look in your heart in your soul

You must find a hook in your heart in your soul

ANd search every nook in your heart in your soul

Don’t live by the book in your heart in your soul

We live by the hook!”

finding neverland

“Stronger.” Source: nytimes.com

It was the conflict that was necessary to make a classic.  With the darkness, the conflict, Peter Pan blossomed from a limp fairy tale into a robust and enduring classic.  Peter Pan is made what it has become not by its fun and frolic, but by the creeping crocodile threat that contrasts with Peter’s playful denial:

  • Peter Pan almost dies to end the first act.  We go to intermission with our hero proclaiming, “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”
  • Tinkerbell sacrifices herself for Pan and her light fades toward death.
  • The Darling children are captured by pirates and threatened with their lives.
  • The Darling parents spend the entire story sick to death at the loss of their children.

Tic Toc.  Tic Toc.  

Our lives and our magical practice are the same.  We may prefer the easy moments, the fun and frolic of living in a state of Neverland-ish denial, but on its own that has no meaning.  We must face the Hooks in our own heart and soul, for it is our struggles and painful moments – and perhaps ultimately our victory over them – that give our lives greater meaning.  They create the awfully big adventure.  Barrie needed his hook.  Peter needed his shadow reattached.  We need our pains to know how we’ve triumphed.  They help us define ourselves and learn how to be, in the words of the first act finale, Stronger:

 

“I can run now so much faster

Now defeat won’t be my master

I will conquer the demons

I won’t have to wait any longer

I’ve got to be stronger”

There will always be difficult times ahead, but if classics can be written under adversity, we can also become stronger from that which does not kill us.  Our Hooks give our lives meaning if we can find them.

 

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Footloose: The Musical Cuts Loose at Mysterium

If you’re of a certain generation, they you are very familiar with the 1984  movie Footloose.   Just the mention of the title immediately brings the film’s high-powered and iconic title song directly into your head (you gotta cut loose).  Images of Kevin Bacon punchdancing and tumbling his way through a flour mill soar into your mind.  It’s classic 80’s music video fun, so much so that in 1998, the film was adapted into a rockin’ stage musical.

I had seen the stage version once before, but my reaction was mixed.  The dancing was fantastic, and of course the music from the movie brought back wonderful memories (Let’s hear it for the boy!), but most of the supplemental music kind of slid through one ear and out the other.

But that was in a huge auditorium.  I was very lucky to get to see it again, this time in Mysterium Theater’s smaller, more intimate space.  Footloose is very different when the anger, pain, and conflict that drives every character is plainly visible from the first note to the last.  The musical format works especially well with this show because, as characters sing we get a window into their deepest thoughts, which helps us gain a better understanding of the complex motivations that drive their behavior.  It’s easy to look at Rev. Moore as the “bad guy,” but the more we hear him sing about his theological and parental conflicts, the more we understand that he is just another misguided soul just trying to do what he believes is right.

Footloose the musical at Mysterium Theater

In case you are unfamiliar with Footloose (hard to imagine, but I’m sure it happens), it is the story of city kid Ren McCormack who moves to the small town of Bomont to find that dancing and rock music are strictly prohibited by city ordinance.  At the top of the town’s power structure sits Rev. Shaw Moore, who controls the city council with faith-inspired iron fist.  Ren’s presence shakes up the town, and soon the local teens start a movement to hold a prom within the city limits, all while Ren falls in love with the preacher’s daughter.  It’s Romeo and Juliet meets Rebel Without a Cause, set to pop rock.

It’s simplistic to boil Footloose down to a battle stupid country bumpkins puritanically fighting against change and anything that smacks of fun vs. good-looking, hormonal teenagers who need a trickster form the outside to come in and change the system.  There’s more.  It’s about repression and renewal.  While we want to see the Reverend’s Christianity as the villain there’s more to it than that.  His religion is not the problem; his own self-imposed, unrealistic expectations that he must control everyone in order to usher them into heaven are truly the issue.

It’s really about small-mindedness, the anxiety of change, and the need for all of us to search our beliefs honestly and make those painful decisions to recognize that sometimes, we are wrong.  One look at the political world we live in today displays those themes in spades.

Mysterium’s production is full of some excellent talent.  In the lead role of Ren, Edgar Torrens tears up the stage with his energy and honesty.  He meets his match, though, with Meredith Culp’s glittering portrayal of Ren’s love interest, Ariel (the preacher’s daughter).  Culp is a magnetic performer who easily accomplishes Ariel’s multiple levels of conflict and expressions of joy while layering on wonderful singing voice.  The stage lights up when she walks on.

Ray Buffer is the central pin in this production in two ways.  As the overly paternal Rev. Moore, Buffer delivers with his booming voice and his quiet, vulnerable strength.  Buffer is also the show’s director, and in this capacity he has done a wonderful job of staging a big musical in to a small space.

Another strong performance is turned in by Andreas Pantazis as Ren’s friend Willard.  At first, Pantazis seems to be portraying just another country hick, but his performance becomes a metaphor for the town’s growth as Willard slowly opens up and blossoms as repression is removed and he is allowed to flower into his full self.  This Willard truly displays his transformation in Pantazis’ carefree and animated rendition of “Mama Says.”

Also impressive are Ariel’s three girlfriends, Rusty (Emily Curington), Wendy Jo (Danielle Goupille), and Urleen (Ariel Infante).  The three act as a sort of Greek chorus, narrating through song and participating in the action.  Their presence is particularly keenly felt in the number “Somebody’s Eyes,” in which they explore the frustration of small town life, where each action you take is catalogued and gossip powers the cogs of existence.  It’s hard to “cut loose” when everything mistake you make is held against you.

Mysterium’s production is both high energy fun, but it also explores some of the deeper layers at work within the town of Bomont.  It sympathetically emphasizes the very real concerns of responsible parenting while also celebrating youth and joy.  And if you come from the 80’s, it’s really hard not to sing along.

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Footloose, The Musical

WHERE: Mysterium Theater

311 Euclid St.

La Habra, CA 90631

WHEN: Thursdays – Sundays through May 29

8:00 pm;  Saturday and Sunday matinees at 4:00 pm

COST: $15-$30 in advance, $30 at the door


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Let it Go/Turn it Off

Robert Lopez is having a great couple of years.  A Yale graduate and Tony Award winning songwriter, Lopez co-wrote the lyrics to the smash hit Broadway musicals Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon.  This year, he has had even more success as one of the songwriters for the new Disney animated film Frozen.

As different from each other as Book of Mormon and Frozen seem, they actually explore some similar issues.  Both are marked by a quest to overcome self-doubt, suppression, and repressive misunderstanding to find the true self.  One works through the avenues of spiritual quest while the other focuses on the pressures of family and society, but ultimately they are both about letting your true self shine.

At the center of both the movie and the stage show is a fantastic, show-stopping number that screams out these themes to the world.  The thing is, while both numbers are rousing, they present opposite sides of the spectrum.

FROZEN

In Frozen’sLet it Go,” lead character Elsa powerfully resolves to stop suppressing who she is.  She gives in to the power she holds and defiantly creates a new life for herself.  The song is masterfully sung by Broadway superstar Idina Menzel and it is masterfully animated with gorgeous images of Elsa magically creating her new sanctuary.

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
Up here in the cold thin air I finally can breathe
I know I left a life behind but I’m too relieved to grieve

Let it go, Let it go
Can’t hold it back anymorLet it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway”

“Turn it Off,” just like it sounds, is exactly the opposite.  Where “Let it Go,” celebrates the expression of your inner self, this song encourages you to shut it down.  Like all good satire, the tragedy in the message is hidden in humor and incongruity.  All of the characters are clearly feeling the sadness of the things they are suppressing, yet they gleefully tap dance in pink, sparkly vests while praising their inner lies.

Turn it off, like a light switch
just go click!
It’s a cool little Mormon trick!
We do it all the time
When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t feel right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
and turn ‘em off

 

These two songs contradict each other, and as much as we’d like to celebrate Elsa’s joyful self-acceptance, she’s actually running away from a problem she created.  Her self-absorption obscures her responsibility to her kingdom, which is suffering under the artificial winter she created.  The cold may not “bother her,” but it’s killing her people.  They’re a little bothered.

But you can’t ignore your true self either, and the crystal clear satire of “Turn it Off” makes it quite obvious that this song’s advice is anything but helpful.

My sister was a dancer, but she got cancer,
My doctor said she still had two months more
I thought she had time, so I got in line
for the new iPhone at the Apple Store.

She lay there dying with my father and mother
Her very last words were ‘where is my brother?’

Turn it off!

A large part of my Path is the path of balance.  I seek to walk in this world as well as the world of spirit.  I seek to be magickal, but also pay the bills and be a good husband, brother, uncle, son, and friend.  I seek my Highest Self, sure, but not at the expense of denying physical reality.  In fact, my spirituality should enhance my experience of the physical world, not detract from it.  Whatever your Path, you probably seek a similar balance.

There are times when we have to turn at least some of it off, but that’s dangerous.  We’ll be just as unhappy as the musical tap dancing missionaries if we shut down too much.  Yet, we risk alienating our friends, family, and employers if we let it go more than we should.  Especially as members of a minority group of religions that is commonly misunderstood, that fulcrum between the two needs becomes ever finer and ever more difficulty to locate.

Sometimes we feel like we have found it, then some experience tells us that we’ve gotten off course.  But I think the conscious searching is the true path.  We walk that windy road between self-expression and polite quiet, and each new experience at work or at a family dinner or with a person with different spiritual ideas can cause us to lose sight of that road.  Perhaps if we are always consciously looking for that narrow, twisty road it becomes easier to keep walking in the right direction.