Thursday, May 7, 2009

We are descended from a long, strong line of women

I'm an unabashed fan of theatre, especially musicals. There is so much raw power available to the universe of the stage, and the best songs and characters can speak directly to your soul through music. Some performances of plays and musicals through the years linger powerfully in my memory.

Among my recent favorites was closing night of the musical Dessa Rose, from the exceedingly talented Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. I was lucky enough to be in the audience for their last performance, with the composers and other Broadway stars scattered throughout the audience. It was as close as I'll probably ever come to attending the Tony Awards, and one of the most powerful shows I've ever seen.

The musical is the story of two women, Ruth and Dessa Rose, who develop an incredibly strong but unlikely friendship during the Civil War. Ruth (Rachel York) is an abandoned wife and plantation owner, while Dessa Rose (LaChanze) is a slave. The show's concept is that these two women are nearing the end of their lives and are sharing the story of their youth with their own children. It's an oral family history set to music. They pass on the lessons of their struggles in the songs they sing. One of them prefaces her story by saying, "I hope you never will forget...we have paid for our children's place in this world; we have paid again and again."

It's Mothers' Day this Sunday, of course, a perfect chance to reflect on the strong women in our own lives and throughout the ages - from Eve to Mary Magdalene to Jane Austen to Susan B. Anthony to Sandra Day O'Connor to our own mothers. The words of the opening song from Dessa Rose remind us of the importance of history and our place in it:

We are descended
From a long, strong line of women.
And we are handing you down the story
Listen, child, to the story
Soon be yours to tell.

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