This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to see two phenomenal pieces of theater. The first was Company One’s production of Kirsten Greenidge’s Splendor. The second was Boston University Stage Troupe‘s production of Sarah Ruhl‘s Eurydice. Though both were phenomenal, they could not be more different… well… except for one thing. The fact that both made me tear up. Granted, in the case of Splendor it was more like a little extra water in my eyes and in the case of Eurydice, there were a couple misplaced streaks of mascara lines running down my face (that should teach me to only wear waterproof mascara when I go to the theater, right?). But the point is, both plays had enough of an effect on me to warrant an emotional/ physical response.
When I sat in the audience for Eurydice, I almost always started crying because of one particular character. Something about his warmth and his struggle took hold of me every time he was on stage. I didn’t empathize with him necessarily. He was an older man, trapped in the underworld with the pain and blessing of being able to remember the things from his life (most inhabitants of the underworld are dunked well enough in the river Styx that they do not remember the specifics from their past lives). But this father character had so much love that there was no way not to sympathize. Though I may not know the from personal experience the extent of paternal love, it is something I can recognize as thoroughly human, thoroughly beautiful in its simplicity.
Similarly, I felt my eyes well up a little while watching Splendor, not because I could see similarities between my life and the lives of the characters but because I saw something that was beautifully human. Because Splendor is a new play, I am not going to reveal anything about that moment for me, but the gist of the matter is that I saw something human, so I cried. I connected to something , so I cried.
According to WebMD, we cry for a number of reasons, primarily as a natural emotional response. We cry not only when we are sad, but also when we are struck by something overwhelming, or even something beautiful. It is the release of a buildup of feelings. And when the buildup becomes too great, we cry. Furthermore, crying is a form of communication, a way of reaching out–even if you are in a dark theater–you are letting people know that you have feelings and something is making you feel this way. It goes as deep as trying to forge a human connection.
Ironically, in Eurydice, there are a couple instances when Eurydice herself tries to cry but physically cannot. She is sad about leaving her husband. Given what I just learned from from the aforementioned medical website, Eurydice’s inability to cry signifies more than the weakness of her sadness; it signifies a breakdown of communication between the title character and her husband. Or maybe more broadly, it suggests Eurydice’s inability to fully communicate with anyone at all. The intention is there but the tears are suspiciously absent. Just as tears are communicative. The absence of tears is also communicative.
So if tears are a form of communication, we are obliged to welcome them in the realm of theater. It might seem so obvious given the whole catharsis thing, but it is true. If tears=communication, and theater=communication, then by the transitive property theater=tears? Well I haven’t done a proof in years so I’m not sure that this is how is actually works, but what I am sure of is that theater (particularly theater that speaks to the heart) should rejoice in the tears of any and all constituents.