Heretical as it is for someone living in New York, I must confess: I almost never go to the theater. But before you peg me a hopeless philistine, I might explain that there are a number of, well, reasonable reasons for this. First of all, have you checked the price of a Broadway ticket lately? Not at all doable on a slim Jesuit stipend. Now I guess that, like some of my friends, I could gradually save up for the occasional big show, but I never seem to get around to it, and instead of seeing "The Lion King," I end up spending my hard-earned poverty on three or four entirely forgettable movies.
And I realize that I could stand in line at the famous TKTS discount ticket booth in Times Square, but this entails an hour or two in the elements and, besides, isn’t it more enjoyable simply to open the newspaper, select a movie with a friend and ring up Mr. Moviephone? Thus, reason number two: lack of planning.
Reason number three is a far more unlikely one, and completely insupportable to my theater-loving friends: I find the seats in most theaters really uncomfortable. On the odd occasions when I’ve seen a play in the past few years, I wondered why they don’t include a free pass to a chiropractor with the Playbill.
But if you are a theater buff, none of these reasons is sufficient. Indeed, one of my closest Jesuit friends, now working toward a master’s degree in theater in Chicago, saves up the lion’s share of what Jesuits call our personalia to see (multiple) plays in New York City whenever he visits. And despite what I consider to be my excellent reasons, he always responds in precisely the same manner to my lamentable lack of culture: a roll of the eyes and "I can’t believe you live here and haven’t seen [fill in the blank]." New York, he once told me with a laugh, is entirely wasted on me.
So, given my lack of financial resources, I was happy to receive a complimentary ticket to a new play called "Siciliano," produced by the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped, an organization founded and directed by a Jesuit, Brother Rick Curry.
"Siciliano" is a rarity: a play written by the main character, who plays himself. The (true) story is of a young man, named John Siciliano, who loses his right leg in an automobile accident. The audience follows Mr. Siciliano through wrenching scenes depicting the accident and the recuperation that follows, as well as his bouts of depression, his arduous physical therapy and his ultimate rediscovery of joy in life. It is exciting theater, made more so by the realization that before you is a person who has moved through many planes of spiritual and physical pain. Therefore the drama works on a variety of levels. One finds oneself marveling not only at the performance itself (how, after all, does one play oneself?) but also at the courage it took to write about it and, more to the point, to live it. (The show will continue in New York and then move on, so keep your eyes peeled.)
This particular evening of theater was at once thought-provoking (what does it mean to be disabled in a culture that prizes the perfect body?), moving (what is it like to endure many months of physical therapy?), uplifting (how is it possible to find hope in the midst of intense suffering?) and, because of the intensity of the subject material, justly disturbing. All of this was made more intense by the immediacy of the acting and the intimacy of a small theater space, both of which ultimately depend on live performance, something Mr. Moviephone knows little about.
All of which leads me to wonder if - comfortable seats or no, long lines or no, and slim budget and all - maybe I shouldn’t try venturing out to the theater more often. This is New York, after all.
So what is "Cats" about, anyway?