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June 29th, 2007

Across the Blue Horizon

Two nights ago, we saw Rinde Eckert's Horizon, and I'm just now beginning to be able to talk about it. Not at great length, though. For one thing, I'm still not sure what I think about it--I only know how I feel. For another, we're leaving for Spain tomorrow, and I'm not ready yet. (Is anybody ever really ready to leave her life for 11 days without a backward glance? Ah, well, that's another subject).

Rinde Eckert is not that well-known, but he's well-loved by those who know him. His most famous piece is probably And God Created Great Whales, which is about (among other things) short-term memory loss and Moby Dick and mortality--which last is pretty much what Eckert's work is always about. Horizon is about mortality and God and faith and religion and Reinholt Neihbur and philosophy. It's kind of an opera--there are recitatifs and arias, but there's also a lot of dialogue, especially in the play the protagonist is writing about two guys building a foundation with not quite enough bricks that is reminiscent of Waiting for Godot, only a lot more optimistic. There's a barbershop trio and Shape-Note-like hymn singing, too. Oh, and parables. Lots and lots of parables, both biblical and not. Yes, it's as interstitial as all get-out. All Eckert's work is.

It's also oddly moving. This kind of non-linear, stylized theatre usually appeals a lot more heavily to the head than to the heart, but Eckert has always been very interested in passion. Not romantic passion, usually--although there's love in his pieces, it tends towards companionate, compassionate, supportive love rather than the heavy-breathing sort. One of his pieces is about a man who sailed single-handedly around the world, for instance, out of passion for a number of things, among them mastery of death, the sea, himself. Horizon is about a professor of Ethics at a Christian College who gets canned for teaching that unquestioning faith is not real faith at all. Left without his classroom, he is called to the pulpit of a church that has been imported stone by stone from England and rebuilt in the desert as a tourist attraction. And he has to decide whether he's going to take it. And his passion? It's for the truth, which, as he himself knows, is both hard to find and often unpleasant when found.

Now, religion, especially of the Christian College variety, makes me nervous. What I might or might not believe in is between me and what I might or might not believe in, and I don't like being told how to pursue that relationship, whatever it may be. But I'm fascinated by the big questions, by who asks them and how they wrestle with the answers. In Horizon, the questions are huge, the questioner complex and interesting, and his wrestling as mighty in its way as Jacob's with the angel. If you have a chance to see this, do. He's touring it in college towns all over America, and since he's not Laurie Anderson, the tickets aren't expensive.

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