“And she was a chambermaid with a tightrope walker’s heart” – From the play “Walking the Tightrope”

This was the line that stayed with me after I left 24th Street Theatre’s exquisite poem-of-a-production Walking the Tightrope.

And she was a chambermaid with a tightrope walker’s heart.

Before I delve any further into this I first need to ask the Ovation Voters out there directly: How many of you have seen this show? And why isn’t this already a part of your vaunted Ovation Recommended List? I realize they are only doing two shows a week, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, and I realize that it is billed as “theater for families” which may translate to many of you as “children’s theatre” filled with loud, over-energetic actors in goofy costumes and screaming children in the aisles and therefore sends you running in the opposite direction, but if there is a show now running in Los Angeles that deserves to be on every recommended list, especially yours, it is this one.

And she was a chambermaid with a tightrope walker’s heart.

What is so unique about this show is that it engages on a multitude of levels, on a child’s level and on an adult’s level, cerebrally and emotionally, as spectacle and as art. And it is a play about loss. Real loss. Whereas Rogue Machine’s highly lauded show Three Views of the Same Object was, in my opinion, an unsubtle exercise in unearned pathos pretending to be a play about loss, Walking the Tightrope is a truly cathartic work of art that seamlessly and subtly takes us to the edge of what loss really is, and then, hand in hand with a child, leads us gently over, not clothed in sentiment, but naked, renewed, hopeful and wise. Leaving us, mature. The script is literally a poem. I’ve read it. It’s 28 pages long, written in the meter of poetry, without stage directions. And whereas Boston Court’s bloodless Cassiopeia (currently Ovation Recommended) also at its essence a poem, attempts to heal the seemingly disparate themes of science and love and meaning and ultimately is just a cerebral exercise in language and thought that never coalesces into anything that makes us care no matter how well the actors acted or the designers designed, Walking the Tightrope finds its poetry in the ordinary and the everyday, in sandwiches and bread pudding and an old lady’s reading glasses, finds its natural conflict in the collision of decency and innocence and inarticulation and then allows us to derive meaning for ourselves, never talking down, whether child or adult.

But then it dawned on me that really all great theater engages on these levels, doesn’t it? Certainly there are plays whose subject matter is just too brutal or too mature for a child to process, you don’t want to bring your seven year old to Killer Joe or ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, but leaving those types of shows aside, shouldn’t all great theater speak to both the child and the adult in all of us? Shouldn’t our innocence be reawakened at the same time that our adult obligations and responsibilities and beliefs are challenged?

Well Walking the Tightrope does all this, in spectacular fashion.

A granddaughter visits her grandparents during the summer, as she has done several times before, only to find that on this particular visit her grandmother isn’t there. The grandfather, still dealing with his own loss, unable to find the right words, finally tells the child that her Nana has run off with the circus, something she always wanted to do. And ultimately it is the child’s innocence that allows the grandfather to finally come to terms with the death of his love even as the child discovers her own wisdom in the process. There are moments during this show that are so breathtaking and transcendent, the act of trying to describe them here would cheapen their power. They simply must be experienced. Hence, once again we are confronted with the truly unique essence of theater at its best: it’s there and then it’s gone and only those in attendance can bear witness.

And she was a chambermaid with a tightrope walker’s heart.

The child and the adult. Who is the teacher and who is the student? What is the line that separates innocence from wisdom? In Walking the Tightrope it’s all one. As all great theater should be.

If you have children, go and take them. If you don’t have children, go and become one again for an hour. If you’re a child, make your parents take you. Actually if you’re a child, you shouldn’t be reading this site, but you should be seeing this show.

What a truly remarkable mission 24th Street Theater has undertaken, sophisticated theater for the entire family, theater for the adult in the child, or the child in the adult, your choice really. Well this company could not have begun on a more satisfying note. It’s one that is still ringing inside me, like a perfectly calibrated tuning fork, in harmony with all my innocence lost and all my wisdom found.

Ding.

Congrats to Mike Kenny, Debbie Devine, Jay McAdams, Paige Lindsey White, Mark Bramhall, Tony Duran, Michael Redfield and everyone else involved in this production at 24th Street Theatre.

And you Ovation Voters out there? Make the trip. It plays through March. Go. You’ll thank me. And I’ll expect to see this gem on your list lickety-split. Capeche?

And she was a chambermaid with a tightrope walker’s heart.

There it is again.

Ding.

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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  1. Kevin Delin Kevin Delin says:

    It’s an interesting notion to present deeper art that children can still follow. In the 21st century, we forget the original Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen tales were often filled with intense graphic scenes and the horrible pain caused by deep, but lost, love. These were, after all, teaching stories – to prepare children for that transition into the real world. Some films like (Disney’s) Pinocchio and Pan’s Labyrinth follow in that tradition, but more often than not, today we are often left with the treacle-tart-pink-bow-wrapped animated plot or post-modern-nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor sprinkled in for adults. It’s exciting to see a company take on the challenge of not treating kids like children. Hope they find their audience.

  2. Jay McAdams says:

    YOU are our audience, Kevin. Come.