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The Object Lesson

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Friend Suzette and I just saw an unforgettable piece of theatre: “The Object Lesson,” starring and by an artist – mime, dancer, actor, magician, comedian – called Geoff Sobelle. Very hard to describe – when I heard the show was about our relationship to our stuff, I knew I had to see it. We are in a room stuffed with cardboard boxes, all labeled – “Stuff my sister doesn’t want”; “CD’s I might throw away” – you know those boxes, you have them too. Only here there are hundreds of them, some are opened on the floor, and before the show we are welcome to poke through. I saw one that contained a stuffed alligator.

Then we sit on various boxes and bits of furniture as Mr. Sobelle assembles his playing area, pulling lamps, a rug and furniture out of boxes – shoving audience members politely aside to do so – and our journey into memory and possessions begins. It feels as if we are travelling inside his life and his memories – he tells us about a week of his young life, a traffic light that he saw in the distance, then that much later he saw the same traffic light only now he was on the other side of it, older – and then he pulls the actual traffic light out of a box and it works, so we all sit bathed in the coloured lights he has just described. 
He puts on skates, courts a woman in the audience, and makes her a salad on a table top, chopping lettuce and peppers by stomping on them with his skates – then does a hysterical tap-dance, in skates. He gets women in the audience to empty their purses and detail what’s in them. And at the end, he does an incredible, inexplicable magic trick – he pulls out a flat box, shows us it’s empty, tapes the bottom carelessly, and then proceeds to pull an enormous quantity of stuff, bit by bit, from this box – showing, we soon realize, the whole span of a life. Young man on the make, young husband, then he pulls out diapers and baby toys, then bills, on and on – armloads of books, chunks of brick, and at the end pill bottles, slippers, and chunks of wiring that look like our insides. And then the lights go out. Needless to say, tears were running down my cheeks. 
An hour and a half without intermission, a show I will never forget. He asks at the end of his note in the program: “This thing that is in your hands now. This thing that is yours now. Your property. Not trash – your property. It wasn’t – but now it is. It’s all yours. What will you do with it all? Do you have what you need? Do you need what you have?

For an acquisitive society like ours – for an acquisitive species like ours – those are important questions. He says, at one point, “There’s a fine line between vintage and crap.” Anyone who has ever been in my house knows I walk that line every day. On the way home, I passed my favourite store Doubletake – and did not go in.

Yesterday, a gloomy day of snow, I found a film I wanted to see at the library: “Get on up,” a bio-pic about the great James Brown, who had a hideous childhood and became the godfather of soul, though also, as the film makes clear, a deeply flawed human being. It’s a wonderful film – produced by Mick Jagger and starring fabulous Chadwick Boseman who nails Brown to perfection. The music is heaven – the actual James Brown.

Unfortunately, “The Object Lesson” ends its run today, but you can watch “Get on up” and I urge you to do so. Over and out from your talent and entertainment scout today.

Tonight, the Oscars. Every year I swear I won’t watch and then I do. But this year, Downton is in the middle – some real art in the midst of the glitz. 



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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