Like coming home.
That’s how it felt to be in my usual seat at Highfield Theatre last Friday for the College Light Opera Company’s season-opener, “Pirates of Penzance.”
It was akin to the feeling you get when you finally make it to the bridge after several days off-Cape, when you can fully exhale. Have we really been holding our breath for the past 18 months waiting for live theater to start up again? If so, for me there was no better place to start inhaling again than at the Highfield Theatre watching a performance by CLOC, a theater company we have had season tickets to since I was 5 years old.
The last live theater performance I saw before the pandemic was Eventide Theatre Company’s stellar performance of “Assassins” in February of last year. And while “Assassins,” even at 30 years old, is still edgy, ”Pirates of Penzance” feels like a comfortable slipper or a favorite sweater. Comfort food after a year of being starved for live theater. Satirical but not especially thought-provoking or controversial; the show is as familiar as the warm embraces we’ve all been missing this past year.
Assuming CLOC performs “Pirates” every three years, and knowing that I’ve been attending CLOC for 48 years, it’s safe to assume that I’ve seen the show at least 16 times. At last week’s performance there were few surprises. I laughed at the same jokes, marveled at the same patter songs and appreciated the usual physical humor; and yet this was by far the sweetest performance of them all, back in our regular seats, surrounded by the usual Friday night crowd, all of us giddy with our love of musical theater and of this theater company and this theater in particular. Yes, the cast was smaller than usual, especially for a Gilbert & Sullivan show, and yes, we missed the full orchestra, but no one dwelled on what we didn’t have. I’ve often heard performers describe the cast of a show they are in as a family. When you are part of the same audience every week, it can feel like a family, too.
Like Joni Mitchell’s lyric, “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone,” last year gave us all a chance to reflect on what we had as well as an excuse to drop out of the things we didn’t want any longer—judging by the nearly full theater last Friday, CLOC wasn’t among the latter. Like George Bailey, we were given a chance to see what life would be like without CLOC and the rest of our beloved theater companies and then we were lucky enough to get them all back again. Now it’s up to us to appreciate it even more.
At one particularly delightful moment last Friday, while a trio of policemen contorted themselves into silly positions, a child’s laughter could be heard rising above that of the general audience—like Clarence the guardian angel’s bell ringing, the laughter was the sound of Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan gaining another fan.
It’s not unusual for CLOC to open its season with “Pirates of Penzance” and it’s even possible that Artistic Director Mark Pearson and CLOC’s board of directors had “Pirates” in the queue this season, regardless of the pandemic. If so, it was serendipitous. While “Pirates” isn’t my favorite Gilbert & Sullivan musical (ask me sometime what is), it was truly the right show at the right time.
When sitting in the theater at a CLOC performance and the lights go down, I am transported back in time—I’m sitting there with my mother, my Aunt Lucille, my grandmother and all the other theater lovers who came before me as well as with my sons, the theater lovers who I hope will come after me.
Like coming home.