We walked in to the New Stage Theater three minutes late, by which time the story was well underway. While waiting that extra four minutes for the next metro and then another five for Tram 17, I had wondered if the ushers would even seat us. The Czechs are nothing if not prompt, and here in Prague, the performing arts are taken very seriously. I’ve been to more opera and ballet here than ever in my life. Tickets are very affordable on purpose; they believe in keeping cultural diversions accessible to everyone.
The punctual beginning and our walking into it in the dark was just the first indication that the children's play I had taken my daughter to this afternoon would mean more to me than the simple story of Agata, her bicycle-riding-postman father and her frumpy hairdresser of a mother, who spent the entire play dressed in a cleaning lady's smock.
Shortly after Agata learns to crawl, her parents take her to a doctor who tells them she is blind. Maminka Frumpinka cries into Tata Posta's arms. On the giant stage-size screen, we see Agata's hands with eyes drawn on them. We see her scrape her fingers through shards of glass, palm smooth rocks, caress the petals of a rose. Her hands become her eyes. She sees her world with senses other than sight. She helps her father gather letters he drops on the road after being chased by a dog. She has nightmares and we go into her imagination, which is a scarier place than anything extant. And in the end, she has an operation, her sight is restored and she runs off in a meadow holding onto the tail of a kite, flying above the green, green grass. It's a sweet story, but I'm telling you, there was more to it than met the eye. . .
I make no pretenses here; I am no theater critic and this is no production critique. The production value was high, come to think of it, the effects artful and innovative, the space a modern marvel. But c'mon. If you're going to do children's theater for a living, maybe could you do it with a modicum of joy? The actors seemed to be enjoying themselves about as much as they did last time they stood in line at the police department. And ohmygod, have you been to a Czech police department lately? Listen, if you're looking for a place to pick up some extra joy, don't go looking there. It is utterly lacking. Not a smile to spare. In fact, this whole country isn't known for flashing its collective pearly whites. But once you get to know the people, learn a bit of the language, begin to understand the country as I have in these two and some years, those smiles come hardwon, and they matter. They are not given freely, nor meaninglessly. Eye contact conveys a trust, an unspoken sympatico, a dissolution of a wall that comes down chink by stone, not with a sledgehammer but with a two or five-crown piece left in the change platter and a je to dobrý. (It's good.)With a deference and a willingness to be quiet, to revere, to absorb and adapt. Oh how I wish the me of my first year here had known then what I know now.
It is good. I wouldn't say 'It's all good' as my [in]estimable friend Kristin Townsend said when she got back from a terrible trip to CA, during which the airlines f*cked up so hard she was delayed by two days and missed one of the most important events of the work week, she caught a cold and her whole body swelled up so much she thought she might die, "It's all good." No. No, sometimes it's not all good. And here's a question: what is the difference between /estimable/ and /INestimable/? Estimable - worthy of esteem. Inestimable: valuable beyond measure. Okay, that friend of mine is BOTH.
And so was that play. And so was the experience of taking my 13-year old daughter. I speak some Czech. She speaks none beyond the words for Hello, Thank You and 'Bye. She struggles with learning disabilities in school and has to work hard on reading comprehension, abstract thinking and logic. I thought the visual representation of story through dance, drama, and visual art would help her process Agata's story.
Sometimes I get it right. I did today.
She was transported by the happenings on the stage, the child-actress portraying Agata, the father's oversized newspaper, the bicycle that appeared to be moving because of the backdrop behind him, the humans in blue unitards representing raindrops, the silly men pushing a two-dimensional ambulance and screaming wee-ooo, wee-ooo.
When we listen to the radio, she makes me switch the station as soon as the familiar American pop songs are over and the deejays come back on, yammering in their unfamiliar tongue. The play contained a lot more dialogue than I had expected and she wasn't phased in the least. She understood story, because story became life. That's the way I have experienced this new, old world that I dropped into two and a half years ago. It was a story and I couldn't process it because it wasn't made real to me. I was an actress on a stage with static props. It was like one of those nightmares when everyone else has studied the script, and the day has come to perform in front of a live audience. I was blind and I couldn't see where I was crawling or anyone to help me as I rammed into everyone and everything in my path. Now this story has become my life. First I didn't see it. Now I do. And my eyes open a little more every day.