A Comic Prayer
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By Marc Porter Zasada
In the modern world, we cling to small eccentricities as if they were gold. We say, "I'm a little wacky that way. I'm a nut for hockey. I collect funny saltshakers. I still play my clarinet."
In an age which includes workforce management software, in which our emails are cataloged by lawyers and our identities stolen in the hundreds of thousands -- the value of even the most minor personal quirks will naturally skyrocket.
Tonight the Urban Man leaves his serious day job to pay a ritual visit to a production of the classic play, You Can't Take It with You, at the Geffen. Written in the Thirties, it shows the happy Sycamore family pursuing serious eccentricities against the iron logic of modern life.
Down in the basement, father makes fireworks. In the parlor, Mother's typing her eleventh unpublished drama and Essie's still taking ballet at age 29. I'm sure you've seen a community production, somewhere. If not, you've seen a thousand imitations.
In their ads, the Geffen calls this play, "the origin of all situation comedy," and of course they're right: Like all sitcom to follow, it concerns a crowd of lovable eccentrics getting in and out of scrapes. Over the years, we have learned from these shows that if you qualify as a harmless clown, good news will arrive just at the right moment. Checks will materialize from thin air. The hospital will call to say that yes, the x-rays were mixed up.
You Can't Take It with You may be less wacky than modern variations, but it promises much more: escape from the logic of modernity itself. This play claims that if you were to do precisely what you wanted, and let the cold hard gears of the world turn without you, then G-d would protect you even from the terrible logic of money. And long hours. And the Internal Revenue Service.
So tonight the Urban Man has come for another ritual visit. I want to see the Sycamores escape one more time, and I don't care if the production's a bit stiff: Again young Ed fools with his xylophone. Again the stuffy tycoon is forced to drop his Wall Street veneer. Again the IRS fails to collect Grandpa's back taxes.
I think how, in darkened rooms out across the America, millions of others are also finding solace in the company of clowns. And still, I'm sure that when we wake tomorrow, we will find that the inevitable logic of our information systems, futures markets and chain restaurants will have continued without interruption through the night.
Sure enough, when the Urban Man goes to his office next morning and boots up his computer, he finds that the PowerPoint show he has been developing for a technology client has not disappeared. It's about workforce management software, and it remains filled with certainty and undeniable conclusions.
And for a moment, before he begins to work, the Urban Man suddenly pictures himself onstage, near the back of the Sycamore's parlor, tapping on Ed's xylophone. He has interrupted Grandpa, and now he speaks his own innocent prayer:
"Lord, aren't I a little wacky, too?" And the crowd laughs. "Don't I...plant strawberries in my backyard? Don't I look silly in my bicycle helmet? Surely, I too have a harmless and comic soul. And surely, Lord, one day You will offer me some witty escape of my own."
Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
---- Note: You Can't Take It with You continues at the Brentwood Theater (the temporary home of the Geffen Playhouse) through May 23, 2005. More details can be found at www.GeffenPlayhouse.com.)
Click the Full Details link to view the complete transcript. Tapes are not available.
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