I cried because the story I saw on stage was an entirely new story for me – The Wizard of Oz as the equivalent of The Actual Dance, except as experienced not from the care giver perspective but from the perspective of a patient.
In case you are reading this without having seen The Actual Dance take a moment and watch this overview of the show – it will take about 8 minutes. Click here. It is, as you will see, a glimpse inside the head of the care giver when faced with the possibility of losing the person he loves most in the world to breast cancer. A journey of ups and downs, hope and despair with an ultimate grace that in fact (spoiler) is not required. A happy ending.
Perhaps I see everything through that lens of The Actual Dance. The Wizard of Oz though is un-mistakenly the story of a young lady in a coma, having been injured in a tornado, who must “find her way home” – or not. The Actual Dance on the other hand is what goes on inside Auntie Em’s head during her vigil at Dorothy’s bedside. We, the audience, through The Wizard of Oz, get to watch what happens inside Dorothy’s head.
Does it really happen? Do people in comas really get confronted with “choices” of sorts? Dorothy finds herself in a liminal place, “not Kansas anymore” for sure, in which she must fight to return home and wake up. It is no doubt a scary place, and there is desperate need for wisdom, courage and love. (AKA, Tin Man, Lion & Scare Crow) Death or life? The Wicked Witch or the Good Witch? The fight is on.
The Wizard him (or her) self of course is an illusion – the idea that somehow we don’t have to do anything ourselves, that some magical force – perhaps the Divine – will make the choice for us, and that is that. Instead, we learn that we need only to want to go home – wake up -- enough. The power is always within us, we just need to find it.
Now that is not true for people who suffer life ending injuries nor for those who have reached the end of their normal lives. It is not true that the people who die are only the ones without a strong will to live. People die all the time. Yet there are many, many stories of unexpected -- recovery and subsequent long lives. The struggle that is won might well be metaphysical and at a level and in a place we don’t or cannot consciously experience. A place I have come to know as “The Ballroom.”
Dorothy seems to remember her experience when she wakes up. Yet she sounds to everyone else like she has lost her senses. Clearly, the knock on her head has caused some hallucinations. It seems to make Dorothy question herself as the show ends with her looking at Toto, her dog, with that “did it all really happen” look.
It took me a very long time to tell the story of my journey into and out of “The Ballroom” – that liminal space between reality and something else that one experiences at existentially challenging moments. It is hard to come to terms with. I think Frank Baum, in the writing of the original book “The Wizard of Oz” had an insight about life and death and could not tell it straight out. He had to use metaphors.