in which I lead a barricade revolution

So you might have heard about this new movie that’s out right now. It’s about Wolverine and a prostitute and a lot of people who are so sad all they can do is sing their emotions.

Brace yourselves, because I’m about to drop a knowledge bomb on you here: That movie is actually based on a Broadway musical.

I know. I KNOW. And that Broadway musical is actually based on a book, too, but that’s one level deeper into this movie-inception than I want to go.

So this musical called Les Miserableshas always been one of my very, very favorites. I can recite literally every word of the score. Even the weird bits in the middle where they’re sing-talking. Call me a cliché, but I really passionately love this show and everything it espouses.

The first time I saw Les Miserables, I was about ten years old, because I was raised by parents who believed in exposing us early to things that were way beyond our maturity level1. I actually remember the production fairly well, or, more accurately, I remember how it made me feel. I remember saying to my dad at intermission, “This is so great! It looks like everybody’s going to end up happy.” And he snorted and said, “Just wait.” I remember crying at the end. Then the lights came up and there was the MT, four years younger than me, sobbing her little heart out. Theater gets you where you live.

But the thing I remember most about this production is Eponine. Not the actress—I don’t actually remember a thing about her. But the character. At ten, I had yet to experience my first unrequited love, the quest that makes Eponine the everywoman2. But there was something about her that I related to at a very basic level—even at ten years old, I understood this idea of wanting impossible things. And ever since then, I have latched onto Eponine. When I was in my theater days and people would ask me what my “dream role” was3, I always said Eponine. Though I have the musical talent of a goldfish, I was dying to stand on stage in my oversized trench coat, belting On My Own. I did it plenty of times alone in my bedroom, for practice4.  For me, Eponine was always my girl because she was so relatable. In the scope of the play, it can be hard to relate to prostitutes and escaped convicts, but there is something so simple about what Eponine wants that we all understand it: she just wants the man she loves to love her back. And I loved her for that.

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Eponine and Marius done by the incredible Tealin, whose art you should really check out (and can do so, by clicking on the image)

Then last summer I went with my family to see Les Miserables at our very favorite place, the Utah Shakespearean Festival. I was excited, ready to cheer for my emotional doppelganger, Eponine.

But Eponine came on stage…and she sang all the same songs she usually sang. And did the same things she always does. And died the way she always does. Because this is a play, and things don’t really change much. But I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t the actress—she was splendid. And it wasn’t Eponine. It was me. Because I wasn’t interested in Eponine anymore. I was absolutely fixated on Enjolras.

This is the moment where you all say, “Who!?”

Enjolras is Marius’s best friend and leader of the doomed barricade revolution. The guy in the gold sparkly vest5. Enjolras, a character whose name I didn’t know until probably my fifth viewing of the show and didn’t know how to pronounce for several more after that6, was suddenly so much more interesting than Eponine, or anyone on stage for that matter. Because he didn’t just pine like Eponine does. He didn’t sulk in the background and sing about how sad he was. He took control of his own life, and the lives of the people around him who were floating along with their fates. He charged forward. He thrust the flag in the air from atop the barricade. He is a rebel with a cause.

And just like that, Eponine was gone, and there was Enjolras.

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This is Enjolras. Aside from being awesome, he has great hair.

I had a similar experience with Jane Eyre, which remains my all-time favorite book. When I read it for the first time as a junior in high school, I thought it was so romantic. Rich, handsome man falls for plain, poor girl because she is intelligent and witty. The greatest love story ever told, in my little sixteen year old brain. And I still think that part of it is great. But as I read Jane Eyre for the ninety third time recently, I started to see things about it that my mind had glossed over in the past. Like the fact that Rochester basically mentally abuses Jane for the entire novel, and lies to her, and asks her to compromise all her moral standards for him. And at first she says no, but then she says yes. Which I’m really not okay with. And though I still value Jane for its literary merit and realize we have to read it as a novel of its time, I’ve lost a bit of my attraction to the story of a woman who gives herself so easily and so completely to a man.

What am I saying? I’m saying that we are never aware of ourselves growing up and growing old. We can’t see it happen—one morning, we just look in the mirror and wonder who the person staring back at us is. And so for me, the greatest indicator of my own descent into adulthood comes in the form of the evolution of my tastes. And I’m happy with my choices if they have led me to be attracted to characters in literature who do not compromise, and who move actively in the direction of their own dreams. It makes me think that maybe, I too, have a shot at doing something awesome. Either that, or I will die at a barricade. Which is actually a pretty epic way to go.     

 

  1. Almost every swear word I know, I learned from Les Miserables. That’s parenting for ya.
  2. I’m fairly certain even women in stable, committed relationships frequently say, “I am just like Eponine!”
  3. No one actually asked that much. I just sort of volunteered this information a lot.
  4. This happened last night.
  5. And, in this production, totally awesome gauntlets.
  6. In spite of what my dad thinks, it’s not En-Rolls.
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10 thoughts on “in which I lead a barricade revolution

  1. Mum says:

    Makes me think of one of my favorite quotes spoken from Emily in Our Town (which play is not a favorite of mine)
    “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?”

    We all change (hopefully for the better) with every, every minute. :)

  2. What a rocking post. Love this! I love loving off-beat characters, or the ones most people don’t think much about. And I’ve totally seen this happen in my life, too, where I loved one thing as a child and love it differently as an adult and can see in that change how I have changed. Just beautiful.

    • MackenziLee says:

      Thanks Caitlin! It’s funny how you can see the same show or read the same book at two different times and it’s like two totally different stories depending on where in your life you are.

  3. Magna Hahnel says:

    Insightful piece. May you always jump over barricades and avoid abuse of any kind.

  4. heidikins says:

    This made me smile in so many ways. I was also an Eponine and have now become something fiercer. I am also glad to read that you had a bit of an A Ha! moment with Jane Eyre. Yes, it has good points and literary value, but the characters are kind of crap, especially Mr. Rochester.

    xox

  5. Carson Center says:

    I had a very similar experience! With both pieces of “literature” (if you will). I used to be obsessed with Eponine and loved everything about her and her songs (and really, musically, I think she does have some of the best songs in the show….). Then I went to the Shakes Festival this last fall, and all of a sudden everything was Fantine to me. No one else even stood close to her in tragedy or relatability. Not that I had ever been a prostitute or anything like that, but I suddenly knew what I would lose if I lost a man I thought would be with me always and a child that I loved (she doesn’t even get to see Cosette at the end–it gets me every time! Not that she would want Cosette to see her like that, but still). I wondered how I could have ever thought Eponine so tragic? :-) Isn’t it interesting how our experiences shape us and help us see things differently. That is what makes great art, I think–we can still love it, just in different aspects, as we grow.

    And seriously, Rochester is creepy!!!! Still my favorite book. I pretty much just love Jane’s singular ideals (for the time period) and her devotion to God.

    Love reading your posts! Keep livin’ the dream in Boston.

    • MackenziLee says:

      That’s so funny Carson that we both had the same experience at the same production of the same show! (And with Janey :) Do you think becoming a mom had anything to do with your sudden empathy for Fantine? I think she’s a great character, but I have nothing comparable in my life to her love for Cosette. Maybe someday I will love her more when I have kids of my own and understand where she comes from.

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