Ado Annie was Right: “All ‘Er Nuthin'” Doesn’t Work.

Rogers & Hammerstein opened their first collaborative Broadway musical, “Oklahoma!” in March, 1943.  Based on a 1931 play (Green Grow the Lilacs), the show incorporated lively musical numbers, lyrics, and ensemble dances to capture the imaginations of the audience members; the stage version also earned many awards for both the original and revival productions. A movie version was released in 1955, starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.

Oklahoma 12

Set in the early 1900’s in the Oklahoma territory, two love stories unfold among the feuding groups of farmers and cowboys.  Laurie and Curly (Jones and MacRae) are the classic and primary couple.  The other couple – Ado Annie and Will Parker – are the ones I’d like to talk about today.  Will Parker makes himself out to be a new fangled cowboy, set for the bright lights/big Kansas City.  Ado Annie, his ‘gal’ and not one to wait around, stays home, and her flirtatious tendencies drive Will crazy.  Back and forth they go, Will going where he pleases, and Annie never saying no to a visit from a cute beau (that’s one of her famous songs: “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No”).

ado annie

Now, I happen to know a thing or two about this musical.  When I was in the 5th grade, my family moved to Culpeper, Virginia, and the choir, led by Debra Greeley (who later became my church choir director at Culpeper United Methodist Church), performed the musical.  I even remember Lisa Nygaard (Lyons), as Ado Annie, singing the famous lines.  [Lisa has since released three CD’s of original music in the Celtic tradition….take a listen!]

For some reason this week, one of the songs – All Er Nuthin’ – got stuck in my head.  The gist of the song is that Will expects Ado Annie to be and act in a certain way.  “If you can’t give me all, give me nuthin; and nuthin’s what you’ll get from me!”  Ado Annie responds, appropriately, I think, by pointing out that “All Er Nuthin'” doesn’t work well in a relationship.  “With you it’s all er nuthin; all for you and nuthin for me…..”  Annie and Will had to learn to work together to make the relationship work.  And they did.

Maybe the reason the song came to mind is because of the “all er nuthin” approach I hear from many people in disagreements these days.  The late 17th century French moralist Joseph Joubert is credited with this quote: “The aim of a(n argument or) discussion should not be victory, but progress.”  In all of this public discourse taking place on social media and in the news, are we even trying to reach agreement anymore?  I realize the word ‘progress’ brings shivers to the spines of some, but seriously – should we be living in an “all er nuthin” world?  How to we even start to address this?

Here’s how I sort it out:

I try to listen.

 I try to listen not to reply, but to understand. (Covey)

I try to listen as the first duty of love. (Tillich)

I don’t want to be short on ears and long on mouth. (John Wayne)

And I want to listen to the one who is mentioned when God’s voice comes through the cloud, saying,”This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (MT 17:5b)

With Christ, life was not an ‘all er nuthin’ approach to be right, and to advance a cause immediately.   In story after story, we read of how Christ entered situations with a heart toward listening, a servant’s heart that time and again teaches us to listen to the poor, the widowed, the orphaned and the sick.  Christ shows us how to be patient, to listen to understand a need, and to reply with love.

In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us this:

27 But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

I say that to do good, we must listen; if we don’t, we might fall prey to the ‘all er nuthin’ mentality.  Yet even when we don’t listen – even when we shoot off our arrogant mouths, assuming that we have all of the facts, assuming we personally know what is best in every situation – even then, God loves us.  Even then, when we realize our mistake, God waits willingly for us to find our way back to him.

That’s how it is with grace – always ‘all’ and never ‘nuthin’.

Now that, my friends, makes for a great story.

In all things, Love.

 

 

 

 

Do You Hear the People Sing? Seeing Michael Brown in the staging of “Les Miserables”

The Dallas Arts district is comprised of several venues, each with a dedicated purpose:   The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra;  and the Winspear Opera House, home to the Dallas Opera, the Lexus Broadway Series, and national touring recitals, concerts, speakers, and dance troupes.  Other buildings house specific resident troupes, including The Dallas Black Dance Theatre, or the Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Last week, I witnessed transformation at the Wyly Theatre, a venue, according to the website,  for classical and experimental stage productions.  For approximately six weeks, the Dallas Theater Center gave patrons a uniquely contemporary staging of the blockbuster Les Miserables.  Same music, same characters, same beautiful story.  Yet, instead of a setting in post revolutionary France in 1832, director Liesl Tommy brought a fresh perspective to a classic story.  This version included students in red berets (ala ‘Guardian Angels’), police in stormtrooper attire, multicultural actors and actresses, dredlocks, transgender characters, and red protest flyers in place of the revolutionary red flag.

How different was this production?  And why did it matter?  It’s easy for us to lose ourselves in musical theater, in the storyline, in the melodies, and in the lyrics.  The individual elements of Les Miserables combine to bring us an intense story about compassion, mercy,  justice, sacrifice and forgiveness.   Patrons of the show leave having been exposed to courageous and ardent characters, albeit from a period long ago.    Or can we find this same story in our world, today?

Clearly director Tommy answers this with a resounding, “Yes!”

A First-Look at Dallas Theater Center's Contemporary, Immersive Les Miz Make-Over

We attended the performance on August 14, 2014.  Consider, for a moment, the events of the week, and the preceding month:

  • Airstrikes and bombs flying again in the Gaza/Israel conflict, killing civilians – adults and children alike.  Attendees of the Les Mis production might have been thinking of this conflict during the fight scenes at the barricade.
  • Tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians in northern Iraq fled to mountaintops to avoid attacks from ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).  Families remained on the mountain, without food or shelter; some humanitarian efforts succeeded despite significant artillery from ISIS; and recently, a military mission concluded with many of the refugees rescued.    One might wonder if Jean Valjean felt as rejected and desperate as he searched the local houses for a kind soul to share food and shelter with a former prisoner – someone, shall we say, ‘different’ than the townspeople?
  • Only 48 hours prior, the world was notified that Robin Williams, brilliant comedian, compassionate and generous soul, took his life.  We learned he battled severe depression; later we learned he was also battling Parkinson’s disease.     Many were still in shock at this death; most were still mourning.   I couldn’t hold back tears as the character Javert sang his soliloquy, just prior to committing suicide – might these words have been Williams’ thoughts as well?

“I am reaching, but I fall.
And the stars are black and cold.
As I stare into the void,
Of a world that cannot hold.
I’ll escape now, from that world.
From the world of Jean Valjean.
There is no where I can turn.
There is no way to go on……..”

  • And on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, outside St. Louis, an eighteen year old  Michael Brown, who was black, and unarmed, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the middle of the day.  The shooting is under serious investigation.  Outrage ensued from the black community, many who opened up with stories of continued abuse and profiling by the primarily white police department and city government.  That night, many rioted.  Over the next week, protests have continued, escalating to a point where the National Guard was sent in to keep the peace.   Curfews have been established, but not always honored.  Police with tear gas, riot gear, and automatic weapons met citizens with fire, rocks, and allegedly – blazing molotov cocktails.

Last night, the situation in Ferguson escalated to a horrific scale, and I listened to the news, read the tweets, and prayed for those in harm’s way.  As I listened to one segment of the news, I learned that some of the community had “built a barricade” to separate themselves from police action.  I closed my eyes, and remembered the re-imagined, contemporary interpretation of Les Miserables:

  • Do those in Ferguson ask “Will you join in our crusade?  Who will be strong and stand with me?”
  • Do those called to protect, sing instead, as Javert did, “One more day to revolution, We will nip it in the bud! We’ll be ready for these schoolboys, They will wet themselves with blood!”
  • Did the protestors sing, before heading to the site of the killing, as Grantaire did in the little bar, “Drink with me to days gone by.  Can it be you fear to die?  Will the world remember you when you fall?  Could it be your death means nothing at all?  Is your life just one more lie?”
  • And who will be left as survivors to sing, as Marius did, “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.  There’s a pain goes on and on.  Empty chairs at empty tables, now my friends are dead and gone.”  And later in the same song, “Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me what your sacrifice was for.  Empty chairs at empty tables, where my friends will say no more.”

What I do know is this:  In this contemporary version of a classic, we are all called to play Valjean.  As we watch and read about the protests, we reach out to God for relief, praying “God on high, hear my prayer.   In my need, You have always been there.  [They are] young, [they’re] afraid.  Let [them] rest.  Heaven blessed.  Bring him home.  Bring [her] home.  Bring [them] home.”

We yearn for peace.  We long for the truth of Brown’s death.  We pray that calmer hearts will prevail, and the people of Ferguson will be able to sing a song of reconciliation and transformation:  “Do you hear the people sing,  lost in the valley of the night?  It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.  For the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies.  Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.”

“They will live again in freedom, in the garden of the Lord.  We will walk behind the plough-share; we will put away the sword.  The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!”

May God be with every individual involved in the tragic events of this last month.  For those who died, may they have eternal peace in the light of God.  For those who remain, may we hear the melody and lyrics of Les Miserables, which continue to shed light on the nature of God, the nature of humanity, and the nature of our relationships – in times past, present, and future.