Friday, December 16, 2011

Follies - a Hint of Nostalgia with a Dash of Regret

The ghosts are ever present. Even when they turn their backs to us they are there, representing our pasts, commenting on our present. The wind rustles and on it are carried the eerie sounds of what was.

At 40 I already have that past full of what was and what could have been. I guess at any age one has that, but four decades into life, I'm aware of the roads I didn't take. I'm aware of too many mornings and I certainly know that all dreamers must awake and that I shouldn't look back. The problem is, I can't help but look back.

During my second viewing of this season's Follies I found myself weeping. I'm always affected by the score, but this time my emotions hovered in that plane between holding on and letting go - where anything can happen - and they overflowed. It’s like on Halloween when the ghosts can walk the earth.

I rent in that place of nostalgia. I teeter on the verge of memory abyss. I don't like to fall in, but sometimes I can't stop it from happening.

Memories can be beautiful things; they can also be tied to regret - the things you wish you'd done, but didn't. "The roads you never take go through rocky ground, don’t they?" Well, don't they? I mean we make up excuses and reasons and justifications for not doing something. My frequent collaborator is fear. Anyone who reads this blog with any consistency knows that.

I was in such an open, receptive place when I sat through this production playing at the Marquis Theatre, that my emotions visibly manifested as tears that ran down my face. I was undeniably moved during “The Road You Didn't Take.” How can one not be when listening to the lyrics below and feeling the pain of the character as it spills forth from the stage and penetrates your heart?

You're either a poet
Or you're a lover
Or you're the famous
Benjamin Stone.
You take one road,
You try one door,
There isn't time for any more.
One's life consists of either/or.
One has regrets
Which one forgets,
And as the years go on.

The road you didn't take
Hardly comes to mind,
Does it?
The door you didn't try,
Where could it have led?
The choice you didn't make
Never was defined.
Was it!
Dreams you didn't dare
Are dead.
Were they ever there?
Who said!
I don't remember,
I don't remember
At all.

The books I'll never read
Wouldn't change a thing,
Would they?
The girls I'll never know
I'm too tired for.
The lives I'll never lead
Couldn't make me sing.
Could they? Could they? Could they?
Chances that you miss.
Ignorance is bliss--
What's more,
You won't remember,
You won't remember
At all,
Not at all.

You yearn for the women,
Long for the money,
Envy the famous
Benjamin Stones.
You take your road,
The decades fly,
The yearnings fade, the longings die.
You learn to bid them all goodbye.
And oh, the peace,
The blessed peace...
At last you come to know:

The roads you never take
Go through rocky ground,
Don't they?
The choices that you make
Aren't all that grim.
The worlds you never see
Still will be around,
Won't they!
The Ben I'll never be,
Who remembers him?

My choice to stop singing is what comes to mind here. My dreams. The ones I gave up on. The ones that I bid goodbye. As I have aged so has my voice; its strength, power and range withered due to lack of use. The yearnings haven’t really faded, the longings haven’t really died. I’ve just learned to live with them shut behind a door that I don’t open.

Then there’s “Too Many Mornings.” My second blubbering moment. More so this time than in the earlier scene where I first lost my grip on emotional control. I've seen four productions of Follies over the years, this current one twice; I've listened to it countless times. I do believe it is my favorite Stephen Sondheim score. It always moves me and generally breaks my heart. I believe that this time was the first time I've actually cried while watching. I was so connected that I couldn’t stop the flow of tears. At one point my heart broke in two at the mere intake of breath by Bernadette Peters as her “Sally” listened to “Ben,” so robustly portrayed by Ron Raines, singing to her exactly what she has been longing to hear.

Too many mornings,

Waking and pretending I reach for you.
Thousands of mornings,

Dreaming of my girl...

All that time wasted,

Merely passing through,

Time I could have spent,

So content

Wasting time with you.

Too many mornings,

Wishing that the room might be filled with you.

Morning to morning,

Turning into days.

All the days
That I thought would never end,

All the nights
With another day to spend.

All those times
I'd look up to see

Sally standing at the door,

Sally moving to the bed,

Sally resting in my arms

With her head against my head.

SALLY (speaks): If you don’t kiss me, Ben, I think I’m going to die.

How I planned:

What I'd wear tonight and

When should I get here,

How should I find you,

Where I'd stand,

What I'd say in case you
Didn't remember,

How I'd remind you--

You remembered.

And my fears were wrong!

Was it ever real?

Did I ever love you this much?

Did we ever feel

So happy then?

Too many mornings

Wasted in pretending I reach for you,

How many mornings

Are there still to come?

How much time can we hope that there will be?

Not much time, but it's time enough for me.,
If there's time to look up and be/see

Sally standing at the door,

Sally moving to the bed,

Sally resting in your/my arms,

With your head against my head.

Sally has loved Ben for at least 30 years - through two children and one unhappy marriage she has held tight to what could have been. It's heartbreakingly sad to desire something for so long and so strongly and never be able to attain it. For the first time, I’m embarrassed to admit, I realized that Ben is singing to the Sally that he fell in love with, the Sally of his youth, while present day Sally thinks he singing to her in the present moment. I can’t believe I never realized that. Sally has wasted so many years of her life unhappy - unable to be happy, or choosing not to be - because she has been in love with a man who loved her once, but not enough to marry her. She settled and has lived with that regret ever since.

"Losing My Mind" was a performance on the brim of a breakdown. It should be, but I haven’t experienced it like this before. The tears were in Bernadette’s eyes even as the lights came up. She was swimming in a sea of loneliness and regret. As she sang. I wanted to weep with her but was so entranced that I couldn’t for fear of blurring my vision of her as she cried and struggled to tell us her feelings.

The sun comes up,
I think about you.
The coffee cup,
I think about you.
I want you so,
It's like I'm losing my mind.

The morning ends,
I think about you.
I talk to friends,
I think about you
And do they know?
It's like I'm losing my mind.

All afternoon,
Doing every little chore,
The thought of you stays bright.
Sometimes I stand
In the middle of the floor,
Not going left,
Not going right,

I dim the lights
And think about you,
Spend sleepless nights
To think about you.
You said you loved me,
Or were you just being kind?
Or am I Losing my mind?

There’s nothing Sally can do but stand there and sing her emotional breakdown to us. Even though I’ve gone on verbal record as one who doesn’t fully embrace Bernadette’s performance in this role, her delivery of this song in that moment resinated with me this time. I find it difficult to sing while crying. I don’t know how she got through it, but she did and she conveyed to me Sally's desperation and her crazy. Her sadness filled the space between the stage and me.

The ghost of my former self must cringe every time I say, "I used to be fun." We all used to be something different than we are now. Follies always makes me reflect on my life. It always makes me sad - for the characters choices and for my own. It’s a chance to reflect, but I never leave unscathed. My youth is gone. I’m not old, but I’m no longer that 20-something, new in the City, with dreams that seemed within reach; dreams that I let go of for one reason or another. I don’t regret some of those choices. Others I wonder about a lot. Memory can be hateful, but it should remind us to do it while we can. Don’t give up. Take the leap in the moment. Don’t get to the place where you have something to regret. The biggest goal for me is to look back at my life and be satisfied with my choices, even the bad ones. I made them for some reason in that moment. They are mine. I have beautiful memories of my performing past and I have beautiful memories of a love that I’m glad I opened my heart to.

There will always be a road you didn’t take. There will always be questions about choices made. I need to thrive in the present with an eye on the future instead of hindsight heartbreak for what will never be.

(Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim © 1971)