When story, lyrics, voices, stagecraft, and vision come together, the result is powerful, memorable, and impactful. Case in point is Tony Kushner’s “Caroline, or change, the musical, now playing at the Guthrie Theater through June 21, 2009.
We know through living that life is complex and complicated, but we experience life singularly (as individuals), in small groups (family units or couples), and as members of society (citizens), and we rarely give ourselves the opportunity to reflect on how interconnected we are; how events in history (like the first assassination of a president or the formation of a social movement like Civil Rights) are like small threads that weave us together, and when pulled in conflicting directions can begin to unravel the entire social fabric—and the lives of individuals, who discover how linked together their lives are.
Tony Kushner’s amazing musical, “Caroline, or change” is a must see, or better still, a must see and hear. The format is that of a musical, and all the lines are sung. Its structure and array of characters (including those representing anthropomorphized objects such as the radio, the washing machine, and the dryer) presents us a unique opportunity to witness change up close and personal; we get to peer inside the walls of the home, and become the proverbial fly on it–stripped bare.
We see life in all its closeness, vulnerability, pettiness, sadness, and divisiveness (of class, religion, race, gender and intergenerational conflicts), and we the audience become privy to shattered dreams and unfulfilled expectations, the pain of loss, intergenerational conflict, and the potency of a youthful wish for a better tomorrow. We see, but mostly we hear the play’s action through powerful voices that boom, rumble, scream, seduce, and wail. Caroline, or change exposes the range of the human spirit in all its love, richness, complexity, and pain. These are two and a half hours worth spending to embrace and reflect upon the one certainty in our universe—change. Nothing and no one stays the same forever. Thank you Tony Kushner for reminding us so powerfully and thank you to the actors whose musical eloquence resonates with the spirit (and sounds)of what makes us truly human—our fragility, vulnerability, and our strength.
©2009 McClaurin Solutions
Irma McClaurin is an anthropologist/writer and also Associate Vice President for System Academic Administration, as well as Executive Director of the Urban Research and Outreach Center at the University of Minneapolis. Her latest essay, “Walking in Zora’s Shoes or ‘Seek[ing] Out de Inside Meanin’ of Words’: The Intersections of Anthropology, Ethnography, Identity, and Writing,” was just published in Anthropology Off the Shelf: Anthropologists on Writing (Wiley 2009). The views expressed are entirely her own.