Last night, my wife and I went to see The King and I at the Auditorium Theatre. As an added bonus it was opening night. I was very much impressed by the presentation: Sandy Duncan has made a striking return to Chicago theatre as Anna, but I must say I expected her to excel. What I didn’t expect was the frequent commentary from the ladies in the row behind us.
Now I try to mind my business most times. I even accomplish this now and again, but the cell-phone conversation pulled my attention from the Theatre’s gilded walls (the result of a wonderful rehab). At first it wasn’t exceptionally odd, a conversation ending with “God Bless You,” though its enthusiasm perked my ears. I was about to shrug it off when the woman’s seatmate began to tell a story about a relative’s operation. Apparently, a divine hand played an instrumental role.
Before I continue, I must say that the crowd was very substantial. This being the case, the volume of the conversation was elevated. I do not wish to appear as an eavesdropping letch-witch; I may or may not be, but regardless, I would rather not appear that way. At any rate, the gist of the story was that the relative had a stroke during the surgery and survived with partial paralysis. Her survival was attributed to the grace of God. This casual disregard of physicians and operating personnel is, in and of itself, not at all uncommon. This outcome, though, seemed very sad, but I could hear the wondrous gleam in the woman’s eyes as she told her story. I was a bit confounded until she explained to her friend that because of the surgery, her family was there when the stroke happened. If it were not for the surgery, she could have had the stroke at home and no one would have been there to help her. It was God’s work.
God’s work? The woman has a stroke and it’s God’s work? I’m used to brilliant doctors, with years of training and study, being marginalized by families and survivors of illness and accident. It is commonplace to hear that God saved so-and-so’s life as opposed to the neurosurgeon who conducted the seventeen-hour operation that actually removed the tumor. I don’t agree with this mentality, but I’ve become dejectedly tolerant of such selective reasoning. What I can’t wrap my head around is the amazing reconstruction of an event to fit the format of a divine plan. This was, of course, because I had not yet heard my wife’s sound description of the speaker’s tone. “She speaks with the fervency of a fresh convert,” she said. I should listen to my wife more often.
Looking back, I remember the friend’s constant approval and support. She was very quick to agree: with many a, “Yes, it’s His will,” “That’s how it is” and “Thank the Lord”–that is, thank the lord for the stroke. As the musical began, I noticed another facet of the faithful flock–the conversations didn’t end. They moved on to proper child-rearing techniques, decrying the lenient hand used with the first child (pre-saved?) to the firm resolve of discipline intended for the next child. Did I hear an “Amen”? I did indeed.
You may ask yourself, was this any of my business? I asked myself this very question. I answered in the affirmative for two reasons. One: beyond the occasional bag-crackle or whisper, I couldn’t help hearing people chitchatting a row behind me. Two: shared observations. Under the circumstances, it was public domain. Everyone within ten feet was exposed to these experiences. Although my enjoyment of the performance wasn’t adversely affected, the good folks in row DD were definitely the loudest talkers around. While there were several young children around us, overall they were quite well-behaved. After all, they were not the ones that, despite the announcement, called a chum on their cell phone to share the experience of the show. The kids didn’t receive any calls either.
By far the highlight of the supplementary entertainment however, had to be during the scene in which The King prays. As the prayer scene takes shape, a large statue of Buddha is moved on stage. While the people of Siam bow in respect to their deity, I hear the impassioned whisper behind me, “It’s the Golden Idol!” The Golden Idol? The representation of the most revered figure in Buddhism is a Golden Idol? I don’t remember Charlton Heston smashing the first draft of the Ten Commandments because Guatama Buddha was at the base of Sinai. My first thought–besides “Did I just hear that?”–was “I wonder if that nice South Asian family to my left heard that, or maybe the well-dressed East Asian family directly in front?” For that matter, my wife or I could have been Buddhists, but we didn’t have to be to find such behavior offensive.
It was one thing to roll our eyes at the chuckling behind us when The King’s dancers performed Uncle Tom’s Cabin–a rib-tickler by any standards. It was one thing to ignore the phone, the loud conversations and the sing-a-longs. It was quite something else to be presented with such stark bigotry. It has not been my experience that all or even most Christians are of this like, but maybe I’ve been wrong. Maybe it was only through being in this situation that I could truly learn how people of a certain camp view others. I know I learned something last night. Sandy Duncan still has a great voice for the stage and to those of the ilk of the ladies to our rear, other cultures are laughable and blasphemous. Who would have known?