Thursday, June 02, 2011

theatre notes. brownie points.

Have you ever had a fight with someone so big that it changes everything? The kind of fight where you say things you can't take back, the kind of fight that smashes the tenderness of years to bits, and you can't even understand how it began? Something very small just keeps building up to a moment, where every little resentment you've just shoved down deep rises up and boils over. You can feel that instant, just as you hear those angry, hurtful words leaving your mouth: it's like stepping over the edge of a cliff, and you don't know where that free fall is going to take you. You can see the words hit the other person, pow pow pow, and just as clearly they can see it in your eyes, that dawning awareness that shifts into horror as you realize: you can't erase the memory of what you've just said.

A. and I were at the Taproot Theatre last night to see Brownie Points, a modern play about what happens when five mothers are trapped together on a camping trip. This is based on a true story, about an incident at an Atlanta private school where the two African-American mothers in a group were assigned kitchen duty for a class camping trip. A big fight broke out; friendships were lost. The camping trip never happened, but the playwright, who had a child at that school and knew all the mothers involved, wondered, what if the camping trip had happened? What if they were all trapped out there and had to talk things out, had to work through the minefields of hurts?

It's a funny play. The language is clear and sharp and authentic. But it is heartbreaking, too, because it underscores an uncomfortable truth: we are not ready as a society to face the ghosts of our own past. It isn't only about race and prejudice, though. The other threads twisted through the central theme are those of motherhood and identity, for being a working mother, for being a stay-at-home mother, the guilts and doubts that weigh on us for the choices we make. And that shattering reminder, that we have all had that moment of giving into some deep-buried anger we didn't even know existed, and let loose words that can never be unsaid, never be forgotten. What matters most is the lessons we take away from these moments.

Brownie Points runs through June 18th at the Taproot Theatre.

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