Over centuries, many devices and methods have been invented to inflict pain and torture among humans — some innocent, some deserving. Some of these implements were downright horrific, like The Rack, which stretched a victim's body to almost the breaking point. Or the fearsome Iron Maiden, that enclosed the victim in an impenetrable cage and pierced the skin with sharp spikes.
This past Saturday evening, I was subjected to a method of torture that rivaled any cruel Medieval device — a 5th grade school play.
My niece's class was planning a production of Disney's Aladdin, albeit a somewhat shortened version specifically edited for kids and those with short attention spans (which is essentially the same thing). She was cast as Genie, so for months, she would stay after school for rehearsal. She pored over the thin script booklet, her lines carefully noted in yellow highlighter. She scoured closets at my in-law's house for special accoutrements to accent her costume. I can only assume that the other cast members were going through the same ritual.
The evening of the performance arrived. My son, the Genie's cousin, graciously turned down an invitation to Opening Night, but Mrs. P and I attended as the dutiful aunt and uncle. We entered the small lobby of the auditorium that was already filling up with families and friends of the cast. My niece attends a Jewish day school of which the student body is predominantly comprised of members of affluent suburban Philadelphia families. Yelling "Rachel, over here!" in this crowd would yield a stampede of women clad in Lands End and wielding Coach handbags. Affluence doesn't necessarily go hand-in-hand with intelligence, because a more clueless bunch you have never seen. The lobby was chock full of people with faraway expressions and "lost puppy" looks — confused and bewildered. Small children (most likely younger siblings) weaved through the throng, screaming and giggling, devoid of supervision.
We entered the small auditorium and found our seats. After a few unintelligible announcements from the principal through a way-too-loud microphone, the lights dimmed and the fourth grade choir filed along the stage front and took pre-placed seats facing the audience. They stared blankly. An audible click from a boombox filled the room with prerecorded music. A dozen or so fifth graders shuffled onto the darkened stage and when the lights came up, the torture began.
For the next fifty minutes, we were assaulted both audibly and visually. Save for one young lady (the girl playing Jasmine, who obviously takes voice lessons), the singing could have been likened to ice chips — cold, flat and crackly. The choreography was puzzling, with most of the kids moving independently, like the muddy pirouetting presented in the Woodstock documentary or someone suffering from Saint Vitus Dance
. Everyone delivered their lines as though they were cattle auctioneers, blending the words in a rhythmic, though inarticulate, slur. And the faces. Oh, the faces. Every last child looked as though they would have rather been strapped in a dentist's chair than be on that stage. Not a smile could be found. The only exception being when the boy playing the Sultan blew a line and Jafar caught an inconsolable case of the giggles. I was reminded of The Voyage of The Little Mermaid attraction in Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park. It is a wonderful piece of entertainment, but if you never saw the original film, you'd be hard pressed to follow the plot. This production was similar — except for the "wonderful piece of entertainment" part.
When the play was over, the children came to center stage and took bows and the parent-and-grandparent filled audience lavished them with thunderous applause. A woman in a Coldwater Creek sweater grabbed a microphone and thanked several people for their work on the play. She preceded each acknowledged name with the adjective "amazing," using the accolade three times in once sentence. A few years ago, I saw the stage version of The Lion King. While I am not a fan of musical theater, I was suitably impressed by the ingenious costuming and production design. Was it amazing? No. It was undeniably cool, but not amazing. "Amazing" should be reserved for groundbreaking accomplishments in medicine or feats of engineering like Hoover Dam or natural phenomena like Niagara Falls (all of which I've seen and, yes, they qualify as "amazing"). I did not witness anything on that stage on Saturday evening that remotely resembled anything "amazing." I understand that parents want to give unconditional praise for their children's accomplishments, but "Hey! That was great!" works just as well. What will you do when, later in life, your child does something that is really amazing? Over time, that word loses its "specialness" and becomes diluted.
As we walked back to our car, Mrs. P., once again, told me that I'm a "good sport." Like she's done so many times before.
The torture was over.