'Lost': Exit Music (For a Show)
So in 2001, I directed a production of "Romeo and Juliet" here in Boston. Back then, I thought theatre would be where my life would take me: either I'd be directing plays or becoming the new lighting designer for Radiohead. I was totally fine with either. I'd done theatre pretty much non-stop for a decade at that point, starting off with bit parts in my freshman year of high school, realizing I couldn't act, moving onto set construction, realizing I couldn't build anything, and eventually settling on pointing lights at people so they couldn't see me making fun of them doing the things I myself couldn't actually do. Like Jacob says: it's all about progress.
By the time I hit "Romeo," I pretty much knew it would be the end of things. I didn't know this on a conscious level, but the show incorporated a lot of ideas I'd accumulated over the years and represented a type of final "hurrah" for yours truly. The cast was a mix of college students and high school students there for the summer. The high school students by and large were scene-fillers, happy to be onstage in a college summer stock production. By the time tech week for the show rolled around, I told them that while I hoped we put on a good production, that I hoped they remembered everything about the production that didn't happen in front of the audience: the rehearsals, the inside jokes, and all the unlikely friendships they'd hopefully made in the course of the production. (In other words: remember the reason one does theatre in the first place.)
The production itself was pretty out there, possibly the only production of "Romeo and Juliet" equally influenced by Radiohead's "OK Computer," Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," and A.A. Milne's "The House at Pooh Corner." It was heady and intellectual and absolutely none of that matters, because let me tell you my favorite part of the production. About two weeks into the run, I stopped by halfway through on the way home from work, just to see a bit of the play before heading home. At one point in the show, The Prodigy's "Poison" scores an important wordless scene. I walked in at this point, and four of the actors, about to solemnly walk onstage, were engaged in a full-on dance party stage right.
It was a moment completely created by them, an impromptu way designed by this quartet to get the energy flowing for their onstage appearance. It had nothing to do with my vision, my direction, or my inspiration. It was something created in the moment without my involvement, and I guarantee it's the type of moment they'll remember more than anything that happened onstage. I have a good feeling about this because it's one of the only things I still remember about a production that at the time was pretty close to life-and-death to me in terms of importance.
All this, finally, brings me to "Lost."
Directing that show and writing this blog have more in common than you might think. In both cases, I am FAR too involved in the piece of art I'm analyzing. Talk about your forest from your banyan trees. In both cases, I have a strong, specific sense of where I think things should go. In both cases, I have people involved with the endeavor (whether they be actors or readers) who suggest other interpretations. In both cases, heads have been butted over those conflicting opinions. Luckily, in both cases, that conflict usually produces a third option better than either two previous incarnations would have been. It's a nice little system.
I bring all this up now because of something I posted on my Twitter account today. I was flipping over the calendar from April to May, looked at the layout for the month, gasped in a moment of realization, and immediately posted this: "Three weeks from today, Lost will be over. I need a hug." Not the most profound thing ever, but in my year-plus of being on Twitter, no post got more immediate or overflowing feedback. It didn't exactly take the Twitter world by storm, but I'd clearly touched a nerve in the minds of a lot of followers. It's not that I didn't mean what I posted, but in some ways, I didn't really realize how MUCH I meant it until I had a flood of people virtually hug me back.
Writing about "Lost" four to five times a week for over two and a half years has allowed me to look at the show more closely than I ever would have otherwise, and that constant analysis has yielded incredible appreciation (and yes, frustration) with the show. But there have been definitely times, especially near the end here, when I feel too close to the show. Not in a way that leaves me more emotionally vulnerable, but actually emotionally distant. It's hard to look at the show's magical properties when you're constantly looking behind the curtain to see how they pull off the trick.
But today's Twitter flood reminded me of something: above all, this is a show to be loved, not admired. To admire it is to hold it at arm's length, to appreciate it as an intellectual construction, to celebrate its intricate mythology. And that's all well and good. Few shows should be admired as much as "Lost." And that's fine. But what got through to me loud and clear is the sheer LOVE people have for this show, and that love comes not from donkey wheels and Dharma logos but the characters that the show has created.
When the producers suggested that Season 6 would be a return to Season 1 form, the emphasis on character over mythology was paramount to this parallel. And the beauty of the sideways world, even it its still seemingly impenetrable mystery, is that it's above all a mystery of character. It's not asking, "Who are these people?" It's asking, "Who do these people want to be?" And, by proxy, that's the ultimate question that the show wants us to ask ourselves. Far from a meaningless way to fill a quarter of each episode, they are crucial insights into the complex choices each character was brought to the Island to answer. The Island, the demigods, the ghosts, the time travel: all background noise for these choices.
And that's what I love about the show right now: I don't know what these choices are supposed to be, and I don't know how the characters will make them, and I don't know the ramifications that will follow. But I don't have to understand something to love it. I think The Shins' "Phantom Limb" is just about the most gorgeous song ever, but not only do I not have a firm intellectual understanding of why that is, I barely know any of the lyrics. No matter. There are chord progressions and melodies and harmonies that make so much damn sense to me that they bypass every intellectual barrier and hit me directly in the emotional gut. And at its best, "Lost" does that to me, and does it more consistently than any other show has ever done.
So here's my vow, in these final three weeks: I'll try and remember what I wrote here today. Doesn't mean that the critical eye has been shut, or that the show can do no wrong. "Lost" is imperfect, just like everything else we love. But just as those four actors' impromptu dance session reminded me of what was important when I directed "Romeo and Juliet," the impromptu communal hug on Twitter today reminded me of everything important about this show. "Lost" means something to people, and that's its greatest achievement. It's one worth celebrating, and that's just what I plan to do in the short time left to do so.
Photo credit: ABC