A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, January 19, about She She Pop’s Testament. This SpeakEasy was led by tour guide Mary Dew and local arts and culture guru from Salon Saloon Andy Sturdevant.
It is not the horizon of death, but the final segment of the journey there that is the focus of She She Pop’s Testament. In a deconstruction/reconstruction of King Lear the company invites their real fathers onstage to explore shifting intergenerational relationships spurred by imminent questions of elder care, inheritance, and a lifetime of unresolved emotions. The vignettes are at times comic, personal, and absurd, yet they cross specific circumstances to speak to common, but uncomfortable, realities. What will you give me; what have you given me; what do I owe you? These seemingly materialistic questions offer a frank means of dealing with the logistics of aging, and ultimately, the process of dying. What becomes apparent in Testament is the communal nature of this transition to the last stage of life, the end that faces not an individual alone, but a family. Following the Saturday evening performance, a group of audience members gathered in the Walker’s balcony bar for a SpeakEasy discussion. Themes from that conversation are highlighted in this blog, and additional thoughts and questions are welcomed in the comments section below.
Impenetrable, strong, stoic. The image of a father conjured by Testament‘s opening scenes was for some a father of another era, a distant hero figure, a provider. Audience members ruminated on the histories of these fathers, who grew into adulthood in 1960s Germany. SpeakEasy participants wondered if, as the rigidity of family roles softens, perhaps future generations will not have such a distance to cross in re-meeting their fathers later in life. Yet possible alternatives for today’s children do not resolve the challenges faced by the adult children on-stage. As fathers shed sweater vest armor, we see evidence of the body’s slow deterioration. They are exposed – physically and emotionally. While She She Pop uses humor to address the peculiarities of this power shift from strong-minded parent to care-giving child, one recalls that King Lear is a tragedy and the relationships on-stage will eventually end in death. Instead of dwelling on this end-point, we are reminded to savor these last years of life, even though they may be comprised of unglamorous, deeply painful, and humbling moments.
Confronting the living prelude to death is an intimate experience – caring for a sickened body, watching a person slowly fade, attempting to prolong this time, knowing it is limited. Coupled with the intensity of approaching realities is the desire to postpone them, to avoid considering what end of life caregiving entails, but also to seek resolution, to neatly tie up a lifetime of tensions before the ability to do so runs out. For She She Pop, this came in the form of statements of forgiveness, which revealed the underlying absurdity and utter humanity of parent-child relationships. Audience members noted that forgiveness turned quickly to accusation as both generations found themselves reiterating a laundry list of past disputes.
So often hidden from view, this variation on King Lear brought the challenges of aging to the fore, accompanied by an array of material, emotional, logistical, and physical complexities. As performers dressed in their father’s clothes and donned paper crowns, the image arose of kids playing dress-up. While we grow to adulthood, in some areas we may remain as children – unprepared to meet the uncertainties of the future, afraid, and wishing that parents could fix challenges beyond all our control.
More on Testament:
Read Shanai Matteson’s opening night blog on her experience watching Testament with her father and sister.
Join the conversation:
Our next SpeakEasy will be held on Saturday, January 26, when we will discuss (M)imosa/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church. We hope to see you then!