Why Am I Almost Crying?

I'm trying very hard not to turn the Communiqués section of this site into a regular You Know What Really Grinds My Gears segment. So instead, let me talk about my experience of watching a play at the Public Theater in New York this past weekend.

The show is called The Total Bent. It's really good. I absolutely recommend it. The playwright is a gentleman named Stew whose work I've enjoyed for years: he had a band called The Negro Problem which is great, he's written a song for "Spongebob Squarepants," Spike Lee did a live filming of one of his plays...he's the real deal. (And I talked to him this weekend, and he agreed to appear on an episode of The Juggernaut at some point.)

But for the purpose of this communiqué, I just want to touch briefly on the experience of walking into a theater all covered in armor—as we all are, most of the time—and coming out (alas, maybe temporarily) transformed. It's something maybe only musical theater can do, and I'll admit: I tend not to be a "musical guy." But seeing Ato Blankson-Wood and Vondie Curtis Hall not 30 feet away, hitting every note—in this case, many of the notes have that particular gospel inflection that digs beneath the soft palette and excavates stuff you didn't know you had inside you—and inhabiting these people with problems and talent and love...yikes, man.

There were several points during The Total Bent where I felt near tears...and these weren't particularly "sad" moments. There's a number late in the show on a makeshift stage (I don't want to ruin it for you) where the main character has transformed and is giving the most charismatic rockstar performance you can imagine, and it's happy, it's joyful, and a perfect simulacrum of everything we worship in our celebrities—plus Blankson-Wood can sing like you can't believe—and there I am in the third row, almost bawling. I mean, what is that?

Well, it's wonderful, is what it is: it's a feeling I personally don't have access to just sitting around all day recording podcasts or even writing fiction. It's immediate and thrilling...maybe it's the knowledge that this other human being is walking the knife's edge, risking everything, risking public humiliation, but he is pulling it off. It's something about what he's accomplishing, something about the implication of what we all can accomplish, something about losing the entire notion of daily comfort zones and just extending ourselves.

Anyway. Wonderful. And as many things like that as we can touch: the stuff that cracks open the armor. It's what I know I, personally, need most.


p.s. - Episode 4 of The Juggernaut will feature Marty Beller, the musical director of "The Total Bent," and also the drummer for They Might Be Giants and maestro of lots of other music endeavors.