Beauty and the Beauty

Two weeks ago, I found myself at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park celebrating an old friend’s birthday by watching, in simultaneous humongous HDTV, the state high school hockey tournament semifinal game between Hill Murray and Minnetonka, and the Big 10 tournament game between the Gophers and Michigan State.

As the various dramas built, eliciting the sort of squeal-and-groan choruses unique to the in-heat North American sports bar, one avid hockey mom told me she was excited for the next day’s championship game featuring her beloved Edina High.

“What we really want is for this game to go into overtime,” she said, nodding toward the big screen and a game that would ultimately go into four overtimes; “so that they’re tired and it’ll be easier to beat them.”

Which is what happened the next night, as Edina beat Minnetonka and gallons of ink bled for it the following day. Which bugged me, as did something about what the hockey mom said, but it took a production of “Beauty and the Beast” as staged the weekend of March 19–21 by Carondelet Catholic Middle School at Washburn High School to clarify it: After a steady diet of Olympics, March Madness and state high school tournaments — not to mention the per usual 24-7 onslaught of pro and college sports — this sports fan has had it up to his chinstrap with winners and losers as defined by our spectator sports-addicted nation.

So before moving on to the Next Big Game, let’s note that for a few months in the winter of 2010, 150 kids and their parents signed up to learn lines, build sets, make costumes, rehearse songs and put on a show that will not soon be forgotten by anyone involved, validated though it was not with trophies or medals or box scores or screaming headlines and photos in the daily newspaper.

No matter. Something wonderful happened that weekend, something magical and life-changing, something that can perhaps best be summed up by this quote, printed on the back of the “Beauty and the Beast” program. From “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

“You are told a lot about your education, but some beautiful, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education of all. If a man carries many such memories into life with him, he is saved for the rest of his days. And even if only one good memory is left in our hearts, it may be the instrument of our salvation one day.”

Good memories are what this Beast was made of, and these are mine:

Young faces, flush with the excitement of DIY momentum and first-time stage jitters, reacting to applause, miscues, triumphs and the elixir of being part of something everybody in the hall knows is a fleeting, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Director Heather Dorsey and crew receiving flowers and accolades and looking for all the world like something out of “Glee” or “The Gilmore Girls” when the whole town pulls together and makes a small miracle out of thin air.

Boys in eye-liner and rouge; girls in stockings and sculpted hair high on their heads; parents, rushing from backstage to the back of the auditorium, in simultaneous wide-eyed panic and pride.

Microphones that occasionally didn’t work; backstage chatter drifting out into the auditorium; a controlled chaos that teetered, righted itself, and more often than not achieved a creaky joy that has been the lifeblood of community theater since the beginning of time.

Popular kids singing with shy kids. Funny, easy-going kids rubbing elbows with introverts. Spaced-out kids being herded by control freaks. Otherwise too-cool-for-schoolers dressed as clocks, candlesticks, broomsticks, tea pots, angry mobsters and evil wolves.   

The sight of one kid whose traveling basketball team coach regularly screams at him, singing along with his mates, his beaming face suggesting that, at that moment, all involved were bearing witness to a young man discovering himself and the fact that there’s more to winning and losing than the adult world has led him to believe so far.