Monday, May 18, 2009


The play is called Boleros for the Disenchanted but I am not sure that I get it. I'm not sure who is disenchanted in this play by José Rivera, performed before my crying eyes at the American Conservatory Theater. By crying, I mean a little weepy as the thing proceeded.

The play has two acts, the first set in 1953 when the protagonists, not so loosely based upon the playwright's biological parents, met and married in Puerto Rico, and then in 1992 when they are aged and one dying in Alabama where, so it seems, a long road just ran out. The first act was sharply written, and it made the writer's point that love and happenstance and perseverance in the service of ideals can find fruition. The second act was probably a smidge overlong and indulgent, but it too made the writer's point that love and happenstance and perseverance in the service of ideals cannot protect us from pain and decline and death. I should note that, as usual, the ACT set people outdid themselves, especially in the first act where the environment of the village was indicated by a series of hanging models of tiny houses, and the simplicity of life is indicated by the porch of a small house occupied by a bitter anti-American old man and his long-suffering wife.

The play was thankfully free of the butter-not-melting-in-the-mouth ethnic purism that infects so many pieces like this. It was a piece about people struggling to be and succeed in a world pitted against them. Their ethnicity was a fact but not the moral center of the story. I am sensitive to that because there are aspects of my parents' lives that mirror what Rivera portrayed of his parents. My parents are not possessed of the retreat into ethnic identity to which so many so cloyingly cling in this era where the essential readily trumps the substantial. Rivera avoided the trap, and it made his piece more universal, more visceral.

It made me think of my own parents, and it touched me. It does not matter that this was not a play in the tradition of magical realism, because it simple reality and its unaffected dialogue left me unarmed in front of knowing what I know about how life turns out.

The first act was in 1953 ... that's when I was born ...

Not exactly certain when mother and father met, but they lived only a few doors apart during their teenage years, and they married in 1951. Dad was more adventurous than Mom in youth, but he soon founded a business and a family. Notwithstanding all the dross of everyday life, what my parents had in spades was ethics and honesty and a commitment to doing what is right.

So this is not meant to be a long rumination on what my parents went through, or how they sacrificed to bring us up. It is meant only to say that what Rivera wrote in the first act, notwithstanding how far away it was from my parents encountered at roughly the same time, spoke to me about what they experienced when they met and married.

And so cut to the present. Dad has had a stroke, mother cares for him, and all the dross of the past dissolves in the face of their irreducible commitment to each other. I could think it is sad, but life is not a circle but an arc, and eventually the arc comes to ground again. Like Rivera's parents, my parents have lived the arc, and now it approaches ground again. What marks them as honest people is not just that they are together, but that the fullness of the bond between them exhibits in its every moment the fullness of the lives they have lived.

So, Mr. Rivera succeeded. He set out to display the meaning of an old relationship, and he made me think of the best old relationship I have ever witnessed. So, to return to where we started, I am not really sure where we find the disenchanted referenced in his title. Because staring the fullness of reality in the face is not disenchantment ... it is the stuff of living itself.

Photos by Arod of my parents. The two sketches are of mother and father and they have long been on the walls of the various places they have lived; bottom photo taken at a family event about a year ago.

No comments: