by Robin Allan Jones
I love prologues. “Two houses, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene . . .” “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York . . .” I love prologues so much that I wrote one for myself. In our recent production of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s Umbrella Theatre Company, Noah Way Out, the play begins with a prologue that tells of the nearness of heaven to the medieval imagination. And so, I enjoyed the exquisite pleasure of uttering the opening lines, savoring that surge of adrenaline that ignites the story: “The medieval era, the centuries in the wake of the fall of the Roman Empire . . .” It does seem awfully full of brass and tympany for what was purported to be a “screwball comedy,” but were it humanly possible, I’d make a career of reciting prologues. Because for a moment, I was cast a quarter of a century back into my youth as a college theatre student, reliving the ineluctable joy as the lights would fade up, the opening lines were declaimed, and the fluttering off-stage visceral nervousness would be pushed aside as I anticipated my first entrance.
Equally, I suppose, I love the beginnings of novels: “Call me Ishmael . . .” “It was the best of times and the worst of times . . .” The beginnings of novels and plays are like those magic words on old maps: Terra Incognita “Land Unknown.” “What country, friends, is this?”
Beginnings are always loaded with potential, with promise; beginnings are always the undiscovered country; beginnings always have implied ellipses trailing them because we keep close to our hearts the promises of the imagined what-could-be.
What’s not so hot are the words “The End.”
In the period that we rehearsed and launched Noah Way Out I, as one of St. Paul’s liturgical ministers, shared the honor and joy of serving at the baptism of possibly one of the most beautiful children I have ever seen. This child took to the baptismal water like a baby dolphin. One suspects a mermaid in the pedigree, and this baptism had all the thrill of “Once upon a time . . .” But in that same rehearsal course of time I also served as a liturgical minister, this time at the Cathedral, for the funeral of a friend. This was a thudding, sad, emptiness-leaving, too-soon “The End” for a woman loved by just about everyone who ever knew her, leaving a story of unfulfilled potential without a denouement. I am certain my own sorrow over this still bleeds along the courses of the cracks in the concrete floor of St. Mark’s.
Endings are like that. Rare is the movie that ends as well as it begins; common the novelist who will tell you that the book on which he tapped out “The End” was not the book he intended to write, and there is always a part of us that wishes Romeo and Juliet could live for eternity happily ever after.
But life in the Church is about funerals, not just baptisms, and it’s about everything in between. It is as much about “death do us part” as it is the delectable seduction that leads to “I do.” While I may find that endings make me ache with hollowness, the fact is, we as Episcopalians celebrate every minute of the human experience. We ceremonialize all the landmarks as we recapitulate the terrifying steps to the Cross, and by this celebration, this reliving of the ages of humankind, we honor those landmarks, and we warrior-like look our endings in the eye.
My bedraggled cast and crew, beset by weather, desertion, and delay, eventually brought Noah to his rainbow ending—it would seem our Episcopalian God is not content to have us simply ride the flood; He insists we row and hoist a tattered sail. But as Carlos Castaneda has Don Juan Matus point out: “The warrior laughs and laughs.”
Robin Allan Jones wrote and directed the Umbrella Theatre Company’s Noah Way Out