The routine incident of the cat in the nighttime

The cat is climbing the screen door. It is night and when I let her in, I find the air newly warm. April. I am standing in the kitchen, eating a piece of toast because it has been a busy evening, as so many are, so supper, too, was a snack: homemade orzo salad eaten on the sideline of a soccer field.

It is a green and fragrant time in northwest Arkansas: every vista bordered by leaves riding the wind, and in the daytime, as I ride my bike through warming streets, I coast through clouds of honeysuckle, wisteria, even occasionally peony. April. The teaching year is ticking rapidly down and my regular life rushing in, which is to say I have time to write and to remember I have a blog. It has been six months since I wrote in it. Looking back, I see that I took a six month break last year for no particular reason, which, in a way, is more interesting than the reasons I didn’t write this year: for months after the election, all I thought about was the results of the election, and any thoughts that congealed into communicable form, I sent out on social media.

But today I looked back on the last month and thought, “I have seen and read much that is worthy of mention recently!” Which made me want to mention some of them some place, which made me remember: I have a blog.

And so the first thing I will mention is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which my family and I experienced as a play, a few nights ago, at our local performing arts center. (This is NWA, where, I like to say, we have one of everything, including one stellar arts complex. The area is growing very fast, though and there are several major arts buildings in the works.) It was highly theatrical in a way that contemporary theatre too rarely dares to be. I have often and vocally lamented this: theatre that tries to compete with film, to recreate reality onstage instead of evoking it in the space between the stage–an imagined reality–and the audience, who are really physically in the same space as the actors.

How was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime theatrical? It wasn’t just that the walls of the stage opened and close and lit and projected in ways that were compact and thrilling. It wasn’t just that most of the actors played multiple roles, including furniture of various sorts, and that when the main character imagined himself in outer space, he was freed from gravity by the rest of the cast. It was the ways it trusted the audience to understand the relationship of the external to the internal, the ways that theatre can shift physical scale, can cast emotions into the space around an actor instead of making the viewer find them on his or her face. It didn’t try to be film. It tried to be an evanescent and tactile experience.

Tonight, for other reasons entirely, I read an article by Valeria Luiselli in the New Yorker, where Luiselli quotes her five-year-old daughter: “If we could only be inside our bodies, instead of outside, we would never be cold,” says the child. After a wide-ranging discussion with her mother, though, she concedes, “Well, maybe we are sometimes inside and sometimes outside our body.” Luiselli’s essay is about New York, and about seeing, and about spaces, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime manages, also, both to be a space and to be about a space, about the meeting of the inside and the outside. My kids loved it and I was grateful to NWA for giving them the chance to inhabit that particular inside/outside for a night.  

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