When I first learned my son got a starring role in his first high school play, I was ecstatic. Not just because I was living vicariously through him, but because he had finally found something in which he felt not only did he excel, but he passionately enjoyed. After two months of intense rehearsal, I was an eager mama, armed with tickets for three of the four performances. I missed the penultimate performance (because my sister came to town from Maine to see Saturday night’s show), which OF COURSE (my son says) was the BEST one.
I knew I’d be washed over by a fog of pride; I wasn’t sure how objective I could be, but history dictates I could be a rather harsh judge.
Living in New York City most of my life equipped with an innate love of theater and drama, I’ve had the tremendous benefit of attending Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. After seeing hundreds of shows over the last 25 years, and having spent five years in the theater industry, I feel this cumulative theatrical viewership justifies my theoretical theater critic’s resume.
The lights went down and the cast, clad in their period costumes came on stage and my heart rate accelerated. My little boy is on stage playing a 26-year-old scientist who will seduce the servant girl character. I’m staring at him, hanging on his every line, watching his every mannerism. He’s so handsome, so talented; his presence on stage not only palpable but powerful.
The sense of joy and pride I felt was beyond him just doing a stellar job as an actor. I wanted to give him a hug which had snowballed from my heart for the last 14 years. Here he was on stage, a part of something grand, a performance which will be historically documented on the walls of his elite school. He stood as a fundamental, present member of the cast, who was supportive, encouraging and considerate of his peers and cast-mates. His strong work ethic was obvious from the day he brought home the script, highlighting his lines, memorizing them immediately. Mostly, I was brimming in a sea of warm euphoria as my son, more than anything, exhumed the passion he had stored up for all these years. Not only did he put his brain and heart into his role, he did what I think is the hardest part for an artist, he received and responded to the director’s criticism (“notes”) after each performance). I was proud of his commitment, his performance, and to see the illumination of his inner wick.
My son is fortunate to attend a prestigious private school, one of the best in the world, and he is blessed to have this tremendous institution with its dedicated dramatic arts programs and phenomenal educators guiding them to parallel A’s in physics, geometry, and calculus while playing sports, instruments, and programming robotics in their spare time.
The plot of the play (An Experiment with an Air Pump) focused on lofty discussion of morality and scientific ethics and took place over the course of two time zones: 1799 and 1999. The stage design was constructed entirely by students, primarily one genius who conceptualized the turntable-centered set inspired by Hamilton. The costumes were era-appropriate, worn by the teenagers as if they were seasoned actors who had honed their craft over years, not just two months of 3-hours of rehearsal, 3 times a week.
My son played the villain in the play and has several amorous, mature scenes opposite a girl, who was a senior. In one scene, he kisses her passionately and while it was the PG version, I felt on occasion it bordered on PG-13 because there was a succession of kisses and it seemed some extra credit groping. During the second performance I attended, which was filled predominantly with classmates and friends, the romance scene got the rowdiest reaction. Also, the scene where my son says the word, “erection” earned quite the uproar.
Can you imagine your first kiss on stage? I feel like I’m witnessing the live preamble to a famous actor’s memoir. (Will my son write me a dedication or will he let me pen a chapter? No pressure.)
After the show, the girl my son kissed, came over to introduce herself. She was quintessentially sweet; a senior who is kind, humble, and smart. “I had my first kiss on stage in 9th grade too,” she said and I held onto that precious nugget. I’m witnessing my son plant the seeds of his story.
“He’s going to remember you forever,” I tell her and imagine my son telling his kids a la Ted from How I Met Your Mother about how his first kiss (or 100) was to a senior on stage. Imagine those butterflies.
Last week after the final rehearsal, I asked my son if he feels truly cool. I mean, a freshman kissing a senior in the high school play?
“Yeah,” he said without looking up. “Totally.”
After the performance, the kids had a celebration where the seniors presented the cast with gag gifts based on the character. My son, who portrayed an immoral scientist pervert got a book called Always Jesus and a box of condoms.