This past weekend I had the honor and privilege to be invited to experience “A Senior Theatre Project” by a family friend who attends the local School of Fine Arts. My immensely talented teenage friend wrote and starred in a two person play that had me gripped and gripping my seat from the first scene. I wasn’t sure how two kids in high school could know so much about human nature…or pain…or strength. I told her that I was going to write a blog post about it…it really was that good – so here’s hoping that I do their story justice with my “review”.
The story “Two Broken Treadmills” was a one set production in a “black box”. The audience sat in theatre seating angled toward the stage/ floor below. The props were minimal… a bookshelf and boxes, a kitchen table and chairs, an oven. On either side of the main living area were two bedrooms…to the right, the daughters mattress and scattered magazines and books …to the left, the mother’s room. Shower curtains on rope separate bedrooms from the common living area.
There is also a treadmill and a closed locked door in the center of the stage.
I did not talk to either of the girls who wrote or starred in the show about their “motivation” for the story line. But what is art after all? Once an artist creates and puts it out their to be experienced by another the creation takes on a life of its own…The viewer or listener may get something entirely different than was intended. We can be told what something is “supposed” to mean, but we all draw the meaning based on our own limited or broad experience. With good art, we are left to take away something that stays with us and makes us think.
The show was brilliant, but I was grateful that I had not brought my younger children with me. I would have been seeing the show through their eyes instead of my own…and the topic was serious – dark and heavy. My younger children simply would have been lost. Their innocence would have prevented them from understanding what was really going on underneath the movement and the dialogue. I must admit that I left wondering if the 17 or 18-year-old girls that starred in their own production knew how layered and nuanced their story was. Did I take more out of the story than was intended? I usually do. I don’t enjoy spending my time reading books or watching movies or even having conversations that don’t make me think and grow. Life, in my opinion is too short to always be starting at point “A”…never getting past the “Hello! How have you been?” To the “I know you and I know what has been going on in your life and how are you …HOW ARE YOU??? And what is going on?” Responses of, “I’m ok” and “Not much” is point A. “That was a good movie…next” is point A. “I loved that book, but I can’t remember the characters or the story line and I have this other book I have already started and one in my bag…they are ‘beach reading’ type books” is point A. “I will see you at the next book club/Bunco game/ dinner club/ tennis match…next month” is point A.
I do look for meaning. I want to know. I want to understand. And I don’t want to get bogged down and tripped up by the superfluous. I want to sift something out until all that is left is the treasure – the essence. I don’t want to never get anywhere. After point A there should be something more…deeper…more personal…something that takes hold. I want to plant seeds in fertile ground. I don’t want to waste good seed (time, energy brain cells etc.) by scattering seed on rock or where birds can eat it. I want seeds to yield a bountiful harvest or beautiful garden, not be choked by weeds. That means time, attention…getting my hands dirty… getting on my knees. I must tend to it and be diligent so that weeds can not overtake it. I want things in my life that will bloom and blossom… and create more and more seeds to grow!
I remember having an argument with ladies from my life-time ago book club. We read The Life of Pi when it first came out, and out of 15 or so women there was only myself and one other in our discussion that believed that the boy in The Life of Pi was not really on a boat with animals. It was obvious to me from the beginning that he was on a boat with vicious people and the only way that he could emotionally survive all of the horror that he witnessed was to make up stories to explain things that were unexplainable…justify what was going on around him by pretending that it was something else entirely.
Again, what was intended by the teenage artists may be different, but this is how I experienced “Two Broken Treadmills”:
We are introduced to a 15-year-old girl living a sheltered and protected life inside of her small house. She lives with her mother who goes to work and comes home after work each day. While the mother is gone, the girl sews clothes, does housework, rereads the same books and magazines, cooks, and walks on the treadmill. There are no windows to look through, no telephone or television. The girl is alone all day everyday.
We might say, “Oh this sounds like a Rapunzel type story”. Well, yes and no.
The mother is bitter. She is critical and even though she is the girls only link to human contact…she acts “put out” that the daughter asks questions, wants to talk, wants to play. The mother would rather remind the daughter of all of the things that the mother does for the daughter. “I get up every day and go to work to make money to buy food and afford shelter to keep you safe. All I do is work. I’m tired! I don’t want to talk about it!” That is the kind of conversation that takes place. And the conversation escalates in intensity as the daughter becomes more and more dissatisfied with her tiny world and with the uneasy feeling that there are things that her mother is keeping from her. For as long as she can remember the daughter has been told by her mother that she must stay inside because there is a war outside and people can be killed or kidnapped. The daughter has been told that she must stay inside to stay safe. So each day when the mother leaves for work, the girl is locked in the house. And each day when the mother returns from work the mother locks the door…two locks…and the key is kept in the mother’s pocket.
Why doesn’t the girl rebel? Why doesn’t she lie in wait by the door and when her mother comes in, bash her on the head and escape. Why when the mother opens the door does she not ram the mother over, knock her to the side and go out the door? If she wants out…why doesn’t she just go????
Because the girl believes her mother. The girl doesn’t know what is out there…she thinks her father is missing from fighting in the war. She is discouraged from talking about the boy who was her “imaginary” playmate. She is forbidden from looking into her mother’s boxed up belongings. But little by little the mother’s lies unravel… “What a tangled web we weave…”
On her 18th birthday the girl reminds her mother that it is her birthday…and what she would like for her birthday is to go outside. Now that she is an adult she reasons that she could take some of the burden off of her mother. She could go to work! Surely if her mother has not been killed or kidnapped in all of these years then, now that she is an adult, she doesn’t need the protection that she needed as a child. Please! Please! I want to see! I want to breath! I want to live. But the mother still will hear nothing of it. She is sticking to her old story that she is looking out for and protecting her child.
But the child wants answers and discovers in the forbidden boxes letters that prove that she has a father who is not missing but who may be looking for her and who may want her…and that she has a brother that the father took with him on the night that he left. when confronted , the mother cries that the father had left her, had left them both! The mother cries that the father had broken her heart…she had been seduced, had chosen to leave her family for this man…left her sisters that she loved…was disowned by her mother for her choice…and after giving him everything she had, he left.
Did he leave because she was crazy? Or controlling? Or a liar? She was all of those things, and the daughter found out. We do not know how much more time passes…but the daughter’s 18th birthday seems to be long gone, and the mother returns home from work and tells the daughter that she has some news. The war is over. That’s great! Did it just happen?…How long ago? …There NEVER WAS A WAR? !!!!
Did you already know that? I had a pretty good hunch that it was all a ruse to keep the daughter in her place…and to make the mother look like the sacrificial martyr – worthy of praise and thanks and pity. How can you argue with someone who professes to love you and professes have your best interest in mind. What experience does the girl have to believe anything other than what is presented…how could her mother be manipulating? How could her mother hold her like an animal in a cage for her whole life?
Do we pity the mother for being so sick? Do we pity her for being so desperate not to lose the thing that is most important to her?….Only problem is, her child in not a thing.
Does the child, upon learning of the deception demand the key to leave immediately? Or attack the mother to get free as quickly as possible? Would you? Would you hate the mother for what she has done?
Why doesn’t the girl leave right then and there? Could it be that she is afraid of the unknown…better “the devil you know that the one you don’t”. Or is it something more?
In the end the girl does not leave the mother…and she does not run out of the door. She doesn’t have to. Now she knows the truth…she knows her mother’s failures…she knows that there is a world without war, unlike the room where she has lived. The mother has created a war, and has a war inside…but the girl has chosen not to engage…and it is hard to fight or win a one-sided war when the only enemy is yourself.
The girl doesn’t want the mother to be lost and alone. She doesn’t have to run. Her imprisonment did not make her weak. It made her strong. She was dutiful, trusting, caring. She was forgiving and loving. She confronted her mother, but only to put together a picture of the truth…as she was ready. She was more free than her mother would ever be whether she had to remain inside the room or not. The girl does leave at the final scene, by the way. But she goes out the door with her mother.
Freedom is not about a place in the world, it is about the condition of your heart.
Are our hearts mature enough to forgive…not conditionally forgive, but completely. And are we strong enough to bear whatever situation we face. And are we smart enough to understand that it is not an “easy” life that we should desire, but a life where we are constantly learning and growing…and sometimes there are serious growing pains involved!?!
We can’t forgive unconditionally, or have strength to persevere in all things, or have perfect knowledge about “how” things will work out for our good.
We need help. We need help.
God’s is merciful and forgives us of ALL things. God is all-powerful and can part seas and knock down fortress walls if we just ask and believe. God wants to bless us if we can trust Him to do His work…in His time and in His way.
The mother had a world available to her, unlike the daughter who was stuck in a tiny room. But the mother was much more the prisoner…. of her own making… lost in her past and in her sick head. She was going nowhere. Unless she got help.
For me, this is a story of redemptive love. Redeem means:
- Compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something)
- Do something that compensates for poor past performance or behavior.
We are not called to love and forgive and care for people who have been good to us. We are called to love and forgive and care for everyone…and in so doing, pray that those who have imprisoned or persecuted will find God. Because it is only through the power of God and the workings of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ example that others will KNOW. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love…and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Amen. Good job, girls! You made me think:)
Good luck as you go out in the world to college.
And for us all…”Go OUT and serve the Lord.”
And be free.