May 10, 2013"Anatomy of a fever" and a "controlled hallucination" are phrases that Robert Lowell uses to describe the poetry of Sylvia Plath in her book "Ariel."
He goes on to describe her art using terms such as "triumphal fulfillment," "dangerous," "heroic" and "haunting." Her book, and indeed the poet herself, are what came to mind last night as I sat in the audience for the performance of Milton High School's "Cirque DREYMA."
For over two hours, the sold-out audience sat mesmerized, engaged, entertained and simply in awe as we watched – no, participated in Milton High School's performance directed and written by Larry Smith and performed by an incredibly talented cast of more than 50 Milton students.
From the sometimes chilling special effects and images reminiscent of Christo's "Surrounded Islands" in Biscayne Bay or his "Running Fence," to the seemingly floating-in-the-air dinner table scene that could have been inspired by Dali. Technical Director Simeon Jones was able to create and bring to life Smith's visions and dream-driven storyline.
Add to this the haunting and inspired choreography created by Jen McQueen and the students. It reminded me of a sleep-deprived flash mob at times, and the wide range of tumbling, acrobatics and aerials alone would have been enough for a successful and fulfilling performance.
The inspired set design includes thousands of luminescent multicolored glass containers housing dreams and groups of ominous and conspiring costumed crows traversing the stage on wheelie-shoes. A New Orleans-style funeral procession, complete with a Blues Brothers-type cast, breaks out into swing-jazz improv. These images combine in Smith's "DREYMA" to easily meet Coleridge's dictum that successful fiction / literature must create a "willing suspension of disbelief."
The creation – the performance – is the centerpiece of what was produced at Milton High School. Yet, as successful and as truly inspirational as it was, it stands in the shadow of something so much bigger.
"DREYMA" is being performed to seven completely sold-out performances. If they announced several more shows, I am sure that they too would sell out. The performance is that good. Preceding "DREYMA" was the musical "Spamalot," which also sold out in April and took six of the 14 statewide drama awards last month.
Rehearsals for both shows have been going on since late last year and casting has already started for 2014.
What has happened at Milton that is so much bigger than the program itself is the impact that it has had on the kids – both those directly involved in the shows and to the school itself. It is transformational.
The students in the shows rehearse six days a week for months. They physically build the magnificent sets. They create. They work in teams. They lead. They follow. Together they have created something, and they all have skin in the game.
And the drama program is "our" program – "our" meaning all the school. Anyone can say, "That's my kid (or student or friend) who did that."
There is passion. There is pride. There is engagement, and there is something that we can all feel good about and look at in wonder and amazement.
And it has all happened in a public high school where a couple of teachers, parents, a principal with more guts than anyone I know and a bunch of kids simply decided to make a difference. They had the courage to follow their hearts and create something bigger than all of us.