I'm a theater-weeper.
I'm probably not going to break down during Shrek the Musical or Avenue Q. Though to be truthful, my eyes might fill up during a love song in Wicked, and I might have to blink rapidly when Mufasa dies in The Lion King. But if you're seated next to me and we're watching a musical with a compelling story told by sublime singers who are also fine actors, hand me a tissue, please.
Recently I saw such a musical at Center Stage in Baltimore. In fact, I saw it twice: My husband and I went on opening night and resolved to bring our children when they arrived home from college on winter break.
First, let me get my apology out of the way. I'm sorry you won't be able to see Caroline, or Change at Center Stage, because it's no longer playing. Luckily for me, I'm not a reviewer, so I don't have to write about anything in a timely fashion. I'm just a theater-weeper who can't get this particular show out of her head.
Caroline, or Change was sort of a musical, but sort of an opera, in that almost all of the lines were delivered in song, and the music was complex and layered not very hummable for the average Joe. Good thing there were no average Joes in the cast. It was more like an opera, too, in its choice of subject matter: a serious piece on a time of great social change in America - the early 1960s.
This is not to say that the show did not have lighthearted moments. I could give you a synopsis, but you could easily find one online. But what you won't find is the astounding effect of this particular Baltimore production on its audience. Both times I saw it, you could actually hear sniffling and nose blowing in the theater after a few key scenes. For the first time in a long time, I was not alone as a theater-weeper.
At first, I wondered whether so many folks cried because they saw themselves on stage: a show featuring the struggles of hardworking people might have resonated particularly in Baltimore, a town populated with such people. Then there was the effect of its unexpected, poignant and stirring score. Shoot, I think I might break into tears if someone cut in front of me at the deli line, provided a swelling soundtrack surged and the woman behind the counter had pipes like E. Faye Butler. Then I thought that perhaps it was so emotional a production because of the times - once again, in 2009, we find ourselves again on the verge of social change in this country.
Then I decided it doesn't really matter why there were so many theater-weepers at Caroline, or Change. It's a powerful thing, a good cry, and it's a shame not more of us are comfortable with having one in public now and then. I'm not advocating we all go around crying when someone takes our parking spots or runs over a turtle on the road, although I am sad to report that I have done the latter. But I'm saying we should all go to the theater during these tough times for a good, cleansing cry.
Good theater has the power to take you to a place outside yourself, where you acutely feel someone else's pain or triumph, both of which can trigger tears. But it means you have to get comfortable with the fact that you are sharing an emotional moment with perfect strangers. Perhaps your mascara or nose is running. Oh well.
I say, get over the embarrassment, theater-weepers, and stand up! Don't be afraid to give deserving actors the best kind of ovation: the one where you, the audience members, have real tears flowing.
Welcome to the theater of the human race.
To contact Janet Gilbert or hear her podcasts, go to www.janetgilbert.net.