The Much Needed Healing Power of the Classics
There’s a lot of “political correctness” buzz in the arts community these days. The dramatic events of the past year have thrown spotlights on a number of shadowed areas. Throw out the old. Bring in the new. Everything new is old again. What constitutes “diversity, equity and inclusion”? Who is “the other”? Should we honor the work of disfavored artists? These questions are not new. They've always been at the heart of artistic creation.
Is the work “relevant”, as the Oxford Dictionary defines it, “appropriate to the current time”? Is the Oxford Dictionary“relevant”? At PNT we introduce what we define as “the classics”. Are they relevant? Indeed, I believe “relevance” defines what it is to be a “classic”.
Inclusion. Art is not exclusive to any gender, race, religion or age. Art speaks to the senses of every beholder. Theater is storytelling. The classic stories we tell at Parson’s Nose are not exclusive to American, Danish, British, French, Spanish, Italian, Mexican, Russian, Asian, Black, Brown, White, Abled or Disabled actors or audiences. They are about families, and speak to the family of Mankind. As Moliere, “the Father of Modern Comedy” expressed it,“The purpose of comedy is to correct man’s vices while entertaining him.” His comedy exposed the irrational ridiculousness of his protagonists. When we laugh at The Misanthrope, or Archie Bunker, or Mr. Bluster or Mr. Burns, we laugh at ourselves.
Longevity. The major characteristic of a “classic” story is its “staying power”. Is it universal enough to last over time? Does “Hair” speak to us today? Will “Hamilton” speak to us tomorrow?
Fairy and folk stories were intended for both adults and children. In the past year, PNT has produced and recorded 29 such stories in dramatic form that, beneath the benign surface, stir profound feelings. Beneath the surface lies a subtle complexity often missing in the comparatively ham-fisted, stories of today.
“The Little Fir Tree”(1844) by Hans Andersen is a cautionary tale for adults and children. Learn to live in the moment, or you will spend the future regretting the past.
In “Quality” (1912) John Galsworthy asks “just how costly is this 'progress’ of the Industrial Age? Will our obsession with technology eventually overwhelm the human spirit?
“The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1936) by Stephen Benet tells us that the Brotherhood (including Sisterhood) of Mankind, as daringly attempted by the American Experiment, has the power to unify heaven and hell.
In “A Christmas Carol” (1843) Dickens reminds us we are all capable of redemption
In “The Emperor’s New Clothes” Hans Andersen reaffirms that Truth will set us free.
O Henry’s “The Skylight Room” (1906) promises that Faith will be rewarded, when Hope and Charity have failed.
In our five Chapters of Kenneth Grahaeme’s “Wind in the Willows” (1908) we learn that human life and natural life are one. We are all Moley and Ratty and Badger. Our mission is to enjoy and respect each other, because our time here is short.
Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” (1843) recalls Shakespeare’s Shylock's revenge: “The villainy you teach me I will execute. And it will go hard, but I will better the instruction!”
In the medieval world’s “Everyman” (15th C.) Christians are reminded we are given but one life. It may be taken from us when we least expect it. And we will be asked what did with it.
Katherine Kressmann Taylor’s powerful “Address Unknown” (1938) could not be more exemplary of a classic in the making. If we allow ourselves to be seduced by voice of the mob we will pay a terrible price.
PNT’s two episodes of “A Taste of Shakespeare” (1600) take us through several of The Bard’s great questions:
Hamlet: Is it better to live a hellish life than none at all?
Henry V: Behind the pomp and privilege, how hollow is celebrity and seeming power?
Romeo and Juliet: Can I remember the summer evening excitement of First Love?
Midsummer Night’s Dream: How startling, to be more moved by the earnest simplicity of devoted “amateurs” than the polish of the ”professionals”?
“The Declaration of Independence” (1776) – To be or not to be a country. That is the question.
By learning from the past we move more confidently into the future. The classics remind us what a gift language is, what story is, who we are and why we’re here.
If you enjoy our work and wish it to continue, a donation at www.parsonsnose.org/donate would be most appreciated. And thank you.
Lance Davis, Producing Artistic Director, Parson’s Nose Theater