After our first foray into a spoken play this winter, I'm happy to lead Moonbox back into more familiar territory this spring as we take on William Finn's A New Brain. Before Of Mice and Men last year, all of the productions in our company's short history were musicals – stories about love and spirituality, about a sense of place and a moment in time, all told through the interaction of words and music. Among those musicals, however, this show has a curious distinction: it's not only a story told through music, it's a story about music. For that reason, more than any other, it feels especially personal to me. Floyd Collins, our last musical, led me back to the Appalachian mountains of my childhood, but A New Brain finds me in a place no less familiar. I began my artistic life as a musician, and so for me, in many ways, making music is like coming home.
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that I find something intensely personal in A New Brain. As William Finn wrote the show, he was, as least in part, chronicling his own experience with a life-threatening neurological condition, and he completed many of its songs shortly after leaving the hospital. The songs themselves are moving and hilarious and sometimes both, by turns as sourly sarcastic as a bite on the tongue and as intimate as a late-night confession.
As the show progresses, that intimacy grows deeper. We move from the world outside Gordon to the world within him, and the marvelous irony is that the deeper we go into Gordon's head, the less individual our journey becomes. There's a line in there somewhere, a line between the surreal and the subconscious, the personal and the universal – and as Gordon crosses it, we follow him. We need never have been where Gordon is to feel what he feels: the fear of death, the love of friends and family, the deep, burning desire to leave our mark on the world before we must leave the world forever.
We make it back, of course. We cannot live in that twilight world any more than Gordon can, but going there with him reminds us that we are not as different as we think. And when he comes back to the world he left, we see it with him – with all the beauty and freshness of a first spring and a second chance.