Last Wednesday I traveled back in time.
It was another over-scheduled week, but in spite of my reluctance, my husband had insisted that we go to an anniversary party of a couple he had met in his community theatre travels. The party was to celebrate a 25th anniversary – not too common anymore, and I knew we should go. This couple, an unconventional directing and coreography team, decided to make their party even more uncommon by staging an outdoor production of Checkov’s “The Seagull” in different parts of their yard and home.
I love Checkov, not because of his sometimes morose take on life, but because his plays and stories provide a window into the lives of ordinary Russians at the end of the nineteenth century. We sat down in the makeshift theatre facing a stage consisting of a curtained canopy. Horse fields and the mountain beyond provided the backdrop. It was easy to imagine that we had been transported back a century or so, and my mood quickly brightened.
The play engrossed both of us. Each of the first two acts occurred in a different part of the yard, enhancing the story and the experience. However, it was when we migrated inside for the last half of the play that I felt our time travel experience morph into something more than merely visual.
Our hosts’ home is an old New England farmhouse, and they maintained the traditional ambience with care. Unadorned wood-paneling and wide-plank flooring that creaked enhanced the atmosphere, and the living room-turned-theatre was lit with candles completing the mood. And, when the first actors entered the room, I recalled that once, before television and radio, before texting and telephone, was how most people experienced theatre, music and each other.
It was low-tech. By today’s standards, It was low-budget. and this play performed with and in the company of friends offered an intimacy – with the actors and the work itself – that no blockbuster-3D-special-effects display could ever match.
We got home and I brushed by the dust-covered piano in the living room to find one child passed out on the babysitter’s lap in front of the glowing TV in the den. Our other child was hypnotizing himself with the latest video game obsession. And, as I popped and ushered children into bed, I found myself wishing for just one brief black-out.
We both sat down, too tired and not in the mood for TV. The night was cool, and we threw open the windows. We sat on the couch for a while listening to the trees and the windchimes. We said nothing, and didn’t need to because, for that brief hour, we quietly, mutually decided to stay disconnected from the world -and connected to each other.