For me, April 2006 has been a month of extreme darkness and extreme light, a time when one could attest to the worst suspicions about the nature of humanity — or the brightest vision of it.
Part of my problem in life, perhaps, is a temperamental refusal to see the worst in people. In high school, my smart-ass comments earned me the title of Cynic. In response, I spent the next 30 years of my life trying not to be one — maybe to a fault.
Nevertheless, my "always look on the bright side of life" mentality lets me be joyful when joy is called for. And joy was clearly called for last Friday night when I watched my son perform opening night of his high school's production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," the 1962 Stephen Sondheim musical.
We had 15 members of my family in the audience, many of them visiting for Easter. The auditorium was loaded with friends of cast members, friends who cheer insanely when said cast member first appears, and then again when they take their curtain call. My son had more than a few girls screaming for him, like he was a Beatle.
He first opens his mouth when he sings a line or two in the show's first and most famous song, "Comedy Tonight." It was a startling moment: When did he become a baritone? Does it have anything to do with the sudden sprout of dark hair above his lips?
He has one big number, fairly early in the show. The show is a bit risque (although compared to what kids can see on cable TV after school, it's chaste). His song has more than its share of suggestive lines, which is not too surprising, since he's a brothel-keeper introducing his flock. But I wasn't expecting him to be so lecherously funny. In real life, my son is rather chivalrous and would never say such things, but onstage, he was way too convincing. Maybe he has a secret side.
What am I saying, of course he has a secret side!
At the end of the show, of course, I'm in tears. Not just proud of my son, I'm proud of everyone on the stage, and grateful that they have such a marvelous director/teacher who has given each of them exactly what they need to succeed when the spotlight goes on. This is a cast of kids who trust each other, and trust that if they work hard and do what their teacher tells them, the audience will love them.
Teachers are no longer given automatic respect anywhere in society — not from kids, not from parents, not from government. When Hillary Clinton wrote "it takes a village to raise a child," her advocacy for teachers and other social support systems had the perverse backlash effect of elevating the role of parents as the sole appropriate source for childhood instruction and character development. But I look at my son's drama teacher as a critical partner in raising him right now. She has taught him the values of responsibility, teamwork and being prepared far more effectively than I have managed to do so far.
At the end of the show, I gather with much of the audience outside the doors from which the actors will emerge. I've gotten used to sharing him with his friends and fans. He hugs his fellow actors. He hugs his cheering section. Someone gives him flowers. Finally, he catches my eye, comes over and hugs me — but just for a nanosecond. In high school, you're barely supposed to acknowledge that you even have parents. He's a bit more demonstrative with the 14 other family members who've come to see him. He is clearly elated. He worried about the show all week, but he knows the cast did a good job because he heard us laughing. If you're onstage in a comedy, you measure every laugh.
My wife and I hang around for a few minutes, watching the hug-fest. Eventually, the cast and many of their friends will go off to a cast party. I'm sure it was a celebration, although, of course, he tells me nothing of what went on there.
The big, tuneful opening number has been running through my head all weekend. This could pass for my credo:
Nothing with kings, nothing with crowns;
Bring on the lovers, liars and clowns!
Nothing portentous or polite;