I saw Portland Opera’s production of Faust in 2006 and it sort of changed my life. In the story Faust sells his soul to Mephistopheles (Satan) for youth. Faust in his new youth sees, lusts for and has sex with young Marguerite. This one night stand results in a baby. Marguerite’s brother returns from war and finds his sister dishonored. He loses a duel with Faust and with his final breath curses Marguerite. Completely destroyed she runs to the church for forgiveness and refuge, but Mephistopheles trails behind her, and employs a chorus of demons to drive her into insanity by telling her she is damned. In this state she murders her baby.
In the final act Marguerite is in jail and Faust comes back to rescue her from execution by asking her to join him and Mephistopheles. As Faust and Mephistopheles try to convince her to flee with them, she sees Mephistopheles for the demon he is and cries out to God, giving herself to him and asking to be carried to heaven. As she is executed Mephistopheles yells, “Judged!” Immediately an angelic choir gloriously resounds, “Saved!” The scrim is lifted and the truth of salvation is shown.
Throughout the entire jail scene a scrim had been between the audience and the actors. Scrims are a tool of the theater. They are used to aid in suspending disbelief. When lit from the front, the scrim looks like a solid wall. If it is lit from behind, it is transparent and the audience is unaware that it exists at all. They have no idea they are missing something. They see the stage and the scene with the actors in costume and the set decorated. Motion happens, lines are spoken, all seems normal. And then it happens, the scrim is lifted, and you see the truth behind it. Imperfections and details of the actors, their costumes, and their surroundings that you never noticed before are suddenly blindingly obvious.
I was looking at life through a scrim. I was moving in my own jail, being accused by Satan. I was being told that I was alone, isolated, that no one else was as insecure or as insignificant as me. I was being told a lie. When the chorus of angels broke out in song from the balcony, it was as if God had sent them down for me. It was as if truth was falling on me with every note of the finale. The truth is I was not alone in my life or in my insecurity.
There is a good chance that Portlanders are insecure to the highest degree. It could be because we are a self proclaimed city of geeks. I mean, we have the largest independent bookstore, our library has the busiest circulation for a city its size and the metro area houses offices of the likes of Intel, Tektronix and other technology marvels. I’m pretty sure that in high school most of us did not sit at the cool table.
But here, now, we have made a new geek-chic cool table and yet, we are still not quite sure we should be sitting at it. We think that this could be a “Carrie” moment and any second, any false move, could end with pig’s blood all over us.
Somehow in the depths of my depression Satan’s lies had temporarily obscured God’s truth. I am loved by God, I am worthwhile. No one has it all together; no one. I think God had been slowly pulling up the scrim for awhile. I think my time with him and with wonderful, supportive Jesus loving friends had gotten me closer to the point where it could be lifted completely.
I now saw the world differently. Like the way a three-year-old sees her closet in the daylight as opposed to night. The coat is not a monster anymore, it is just a coat. That commuter isn’t judging me; he is covered in a scrim being accused by Satan, judging himself.
Portland Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly open this Friday at the Keller Auditorium. Check it: http://www.portlandopera.org/operas/2011-2012/madame-butterfly