Thursday, July 07, 2011

SEE Book of Mormon and Die

As my friends know, I just lost my adorable Mimi, the world's brightest and most accommodating Bichon Frisee. She traveled the world in a little black bag, never making a sound or relieving herself till the end of the journey, no matter how lengthy it was--New York to LA, D.C. to Paris-- up for anything as long as she could come along. The disease that felled her attacks young toy dogs, mostly female, its cause and cure unknown.
Any pet owner will understand 'distraught' is not a good enough word to describe my state of soul. I have been through this before, and all my losses have conflated, including the death of my very young husband. So I find myself sobbing in Whole Foods, and try to walk in the park, unable to lift my eyes, and often my feet.
The Animal Medical Center, where Mimi went, has been kind and helpful. Her very smart vet, when I called with the symptoms, immediately told me to make an appointment with neurology, saying very succinctly, and odiously, "Little white dogs." Everyone treated me more than kindly from the moment I arrived, as they all apparently knew even before we got there that this disease has a very rapid onset, and she was doomed. Such an Edgar Allen Poe word, for such a sweet, happy creature. It doesn't seem fair, but then, how much of life does?
It was all over so fast I haven't had time to process. The Center has a Pet Loss Support group, so I went the night after I picked up her ashes, hoping to find some kind of sustenance. Instead, the group, fifteen women and one man who said he had been a female in a previous life and wasn't exactly closeted in this one, was, to a woman, inconsolable. One woman carried a framed 8x10 picture of her little dog, a beauty, that she slept with every night, another could not forgive herself for nodding off, convinced if she had stayed awake her sick dog would not have died, another still put water out for her pet a year after its death, a cat owner who thought God had sent her her cat because there was no love in her life, and few relationships, had stopped believing in God. There was a sweet and intelligent social worker, but she was tiny, not built to stand against all the grief in the room.
When 9/11 happened, and like all New Yorkers, I was in shock, because I understood the world as I had known it was over, ambition, hope, joy, were forever compromised, I went at six in the morning to take my place outside Carnegie Hall for tickets to the memorial concert they were having, as a healing gift to New York, featuring Leontyne Price and YoYoMa. I sat on the sidewalk like the student I had long ago been, and was rewarded with tickets so good I could hear Yo Yo Ma breathing as he played. So now once again bereft, irrational and inconsolable, I went early in the morning to the theater where Book of Mormon was playing, and sat on the sidewalk, hoping for a cancellation at the matinee, as I didn't want to die, which event felt imminent, before seeing it. One of the producers, a very smart, witty woman, more empathetic to dogs than people, had been unable to get tickets for her lawyer or any number of friends who were mad at her, and asked me please to tell her if I was successful getting in.
The line for Standing Room already had thirty people waiting at nine A.M., and I was third in line for cancellations, preceded by a Bette Midler look-and-sound-alike who'd come with a folding chair, and a theater arts major from Michigan. Once again I sat on the sidewalk, this time on a cushion I'd brought, as the years have hardened my ass if not my heart. I got a ticket, and went back home to nap before the matinee, trying not to note how empty my apartment was.
Returning to the theater for the show I re-encountered faux-Bette and she told me after I left there had been a fist fight between a few people hoping for cancellations, accusations of cutting in line, threats. The lights dimmed. The show began to cheers, actual 'Huzzahs,' as if we were all part of an Evelyn Waugh novel, everyone in the audience apparently overjoyed at their luck at actually being there.
I had heard Andrew Rannells, who plays the Mormon Elder Price, sing "I Believe," on the Tonys, and had been moved by the purity of his voice and the sweetness of the music, in spite of the satirical nature of the song. So I was disappointed when I saw he was out for the matinee, replaced by Kevin Duda. But a pretty young usher assured me he was very good, and I slogged to my seat, last on the farthest aisle in the almost last row. But what the hell, I was there. Scalpers were getting $750 a ticket, and American Express had just run a double-paged ad in the Sunday Times saying their members, acting within the next ten days, could buy tickets for April. It was today, and I had paid only(gasp) $155. (Everybody's getting rich on this one: a coke to settle my stomach was $7.00, Junior Mints to rouse me from my torpor, $5.)
As one might have guessed from the elation of the reviews, the book was extremely rude, vulgar and funny, the brief send-up of The Lion King appropriate(I was not a fan of Julie Taymor's even before she hurtled out of favor, as if her very public downfall was a metaphor for what happened to several of Spider-Man's players.) Josh Gad, who plays the misfit schlub in Mormon is predictably Loser-Endearing, and Nikki James, the bright Ugandan in the village is adorable, and her love song to Salt Lake City musically fine and oddly touching.
But I wasn't really having a good time. A couple two rows ahead of me kept leaning their heads in towards each other so I couldn't see the stage, and Mimi was dead. I thought about leaving at intermission, but instead spoke to the husband who was wearing a baseball cap, something that makes me want to punch tourists even when I haven't just lost my dog. I asked him if he and his wife could stop leaning towards each other; he apologized, telling me his wife could see only out of one eye, so he would change seats with her, and that would help. I was immediately ashamed, because that was one of Mimi's symptoms: she had suddenly gone blind in her right eye. So I returned to my seat, chastened, and watched the second act, which was deeper and better, full of good points as South Park episodes always are underneath the outrageousness. And then came the song, the one song in the show that is truly, fully a song, because of the music: I Believe, what I had heard on the Tonys. And I started to cry, soundlessly and long, because the melody was so true, and when I had last heard it, Mimi was alive.
Theater as it originated in ancient Athens was supposed to be cathartic. But I don't believe this was exactly what the Muses had in mind. I am weeping even now, writing this. The show was good, though not all that it was cracked up to be. Mimi might not have been all that I felt she was. For those who have never owned one, she was just a dog. But grief, man. Grief is a bitch.