Sunday, March 10, 2019

Pop Songs and Shoe Puppets

Go forward, move ahead.

Despite the late hour and the green fairy that accompanied me home last night, I didn't forget that it was Devo savings time. I sprung forward.

But today's always such a funky day for me adjusting to it. I woke up lamenting having gotten tickets to a play, worried about using up precious daylight hours inside on a warm day when I realized that there'd still be plenty of sun after the curtain came down.

I almost (gasp!) forgot to eat lunch before leaving for HATTheatre because I wasn't hungry yet. Who knows how long I'll be up tonight waiting to be tired? Come on, Congress, stop the madness and pass the bills currently in both houses to end this nonsense.

But given the overnight clock change, it was nice to arrive at the theater and find that my seat for "Every Brilliant Thing" was an overstuffed armchair rather than a standard theater seat. I wasn't the only one, of course, because the set was made to look like a living room, with tables, lamps and the occasional love seat.

On the table next to me was a lamp with a pleated fabric shade and an open large print crossword puzzle with a pen sitting atop it. I wasn't going to start the crossword puzzle (really, I wasn't) but I spotted #49 down's clue - "plant that treats burns" - and how was I not going to write "aloe" in those four little boxes?

I was still scribbling answers when Chris Hester, star of the one-man play, came over and asked me to take two cards, both with a number and a phrase on them. My only job was to take note of the numbers and read off the words when he said that number.

#213: hammocks
#753: ham biscuits
It's almost like acting, right?

Obviously, I wasn't the only one handed cards to read. In fact, some playgoers were tapped to actually interact with Chris onstage. One guy played the vet to whom he took his childhood dog Paws McCartney (possibly the best dog name ever) and another played his Dad, driving him to the hospital and speaking at his wedding.

The woman closest to me played Mrs. Patterson, the guidance counselor who met with him regularly after his Mom's first hospitalization for depression and attempted suicide. Using her shoe for a puppet named Snoopy, she encouraged him to work through his feelings.

It's imagination that makes life worth living.

Retelling his life story from his earliest memories, Chris' character deals with his Mom's mental illness while navigating the world as he grows up. When he finally falls for a girl at the library, he has an epiphany. "Suddenly the lyrics to pop songs made sense to me."

Oh, good, so it wasn't just me.

Throughout the course of the play, his character works on an ongoing list of every brilliant thing, every reason a person should want to live, occasionally showing it to his Mom in hopes it'll remind her of why staying alive is worth it.

Instead, she corrects his spelling.

#186: conversation
#9,995: falling in love
#9,996: sex
#10,000: waking up late with the person you love

It's a sound list that begins with ice cream, moves through stripes and alcohol and touches on a host of life-affirming reasons such as seeing old people holding hands. With age and time, his character realizes that, if you get to the end of your life without ever feeling crushingly depressed, you probably weren't paying attention.

Can I get an amen?

The object of Chris' affection was Sam, played by a woman playgoer seated in an armchair near the door, whom he meets at the library. In an anecdote he relates about spending time with her and his parents, he recalls how she tore them all up by singing Daniel Johnston's "Some Things Last a Long Time" while playing the piano in the kitchen of their house.

Finally, after years of emotional setbacks and long periods where he ignored the list, Chris gets to the one millionth entry: listening to a record for the first time and reading the liner notes. A singular pleasure if ever there was one.

The choice of the multi-watt talented Chris Hester drove the energy of the play, imbuing it with a believability and sensitivity that was truly touching. Whether unsure about why his Mom was so sad or ecstatic about finally meeting a woman to whom he could make reading recommendations, the audiences' hearts and heads were rooting for him.

And at just over an hour, I barely gave up any afternoon sun at all. Walking outside after we'd given him a standing ovation, people milled around chatting, just for the pleasure of enjoying the warmth. My only regret was being alone with no one to share #186 with today.

And I don't care how much imagination you have, no ham biscuit on the planet can take the place of #10,000. That's why they don't write pop songs about ham biscuits.

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