What's it about?
As one might expect from the title, this play focuses on navigating this messy thing we call life. Nate is a man whose life is messy. His love and spiritual life have both suffered bad fortune, and he looks to astrology to find newfound clarity.
What'd I experience?
From the outside looking in, it feels to me as though the loss of many lives can be a rather unceremonious affair. These lives are mundane like most, and really their loss arguably leaves no huge impact on the world at large. Only few will be remembered among people other than their friends and family, and even fewer will be cared about throughout history. Of course, that’s not to say that a life is unimportant altogether. The impact that any single person has on those around them, like their friends and family, surely carries an incredible and unforgettable weight.
All this to say, when someone we love dies, the world keeps on spinning. It doesn’t stop for their death; it doesn’t pause to indulge in our grief. The world spins onward, almost mockingly, despite the loss of a life that we still feel working on us.
These are all things that we seem to know from the moment that we experience a death in our lives. But grappling with all of these thoughts for a full hour and twenty-five minutes wasn’t exactly something I had expected from a Wednesday night at the theater. And the timing of all of this couldn’t have been more fitting: only days earlier, a close family member of mine had suffered a heart attack. It was a messy, scary night in which the last thing I wanted to do was consider the possibility of death. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. My loved one is doing alright, but fast forward to Wednesday and I was still bombarded with residual anxiety and worry. Perhaps more than ever, I didn’t want to think of death when it had only just skirted its way around my family once again.
Death came in one unexpected moment of the play, when a character suffered a heart attack and dropped limply on the stage. It was a swift, shocking action that took place with no precedent. I sat there, along with everyone else in that audience, in complete silence for what felt like an unbearable amount of time as the dead character laid alone on the floor of their apartment. No other character came to their rescue. The sounds of traffic and distant chatter swelled softly in the background. In the outside world of the play, children were laughing, cars were honking, and neighbors talked about their day. And all around me, something was happening. Audience members were letting out small sighs. Some started shifting in their seats. People took out their phones or checked their watches uneasily. The stillness of death was staring us straight in the face and people no longer wanted to look. Already, it was time to move on.
But I felt compelled to look, because it felt like everyone else (both in and out of the play) had grown tired of acknowledging this death. My attention was the least I owed. And then, of course, I found myself crying. Death isn’t fun, and I was now overwhelmed by my thoughts. Mostly, it was shocking to see a heart attack played out on stage when the same thing had happened to someone I knew so recently. And while I was so relieved that unlike the character on stage, the person in my life was going to be okay, I was upset for that fictional character. They had suffered an unrecognized death. They didn’t get a parade in their honor, or a page in a history book, or even the local news. This was all a hard pill to swallow. The world didn’t stop for this character. It wouldn’t have stopped if my family member had died from their heart attack. And the reality is, the world also won’t stop for my death one day.
A Life did ultimately make me realize that this is okay. It positioned all of my woes about death – and worries about whether anyone is getting the recognition their lives deserve – in the midst of lightheartedness and laughter. I’m not sure the play gave me any solutions to my worries. But then again, I don’t think there is a solution to all of my thoughts about death. Instead, A Life reminded me that we are all meant to move on in the face of death. Whether or not the death warrants a significant public reaction is almost beside the point, because we all will move on anyway. It takes time, and the grief will hurt like nothing else. But A Life proves that we can all look forward to one thing: after a death, laughter will always find its way back into our lives.