August 1, 2023

From the Rector…

SPOILER ALERT: Though this article is not a review of ASF’s Cabaret, it does reference scenes from the musical. If you have not yet seen the production and plan to do so, I encourage you to wait to read my post until after you have seen Cabaret.  

I am often amazed at what people take offense at; but I am even more amazed at what doesn’t seem to offend others. We are so easily offended when it comes to sex or gender issues, foul language, when someone says something bad about a loved one or criticizes our favorite football coach. We even get offended when we don’t get our way. Often, we have an emotional attachment to the things that offend us. We care about those things and so we are quick to get our dander up. Other offenses don’t seem quite as important. We might know there is something inherently wrong in a rule or social construct, but if it is not directly impacting us—at least in the present—we don’t pay it that much attention.

This past weekend Steve and I went to see Cabaret at ASF. The show was very well done. The actors and musicians did a fantastic job. The scenery and costumes were thoughtful and contributed to the overall fun—and somewhat sinister—atmosphere at the heart of this particular production. As usual, ASF delivered. Cabaret was delightful, thoughtful, and did what good theater does best—it entertained and inspired. It also offended…deeply.

I knew going to see the show that there would be a scene in the first act that would potentially offend many in the audience. In the scene, two men kiss. Sure enough, when it happened, the audience reacted. Not as emphatically as one might expect—I think that word had gotten out—but there was a stir and a twitter that ran through the audience. I must admit, I was a bit surprised at the reaction. Not because there was a reaction, but because this scene caused a greater stir than the opening number in which all the girls of the cabaret were introduced. That was an overly sexualized number with lots of innuendo—a little racy for this priest and yet, a lot of fun to watch. (Thank goodness I am not a prude!) It made me think, “Ok. We can sing about lady parts and make vulgar moves on the stage, but a kiss is thought to be inappropriate.”  And then it was over. The rest of the musical alluded to sex a good bit, but the vulgarity and overt sexuality faded into the background. In essence, the scene seemed to serve as a distraction from that which the viewer should really be offended. And it worked.

Though I knew Liza Minelli starred in the movie Cabaret and I have heard her sing that number by the same name, I’ve never actually seen the movie or musical before. So, when Ernst Ludwig pulls off his topcoat to reveal that he is wearing a red arm band with a swastika on it, I gasped. That was my moment of offense—the musical was about Nazis. I had fallen for all the distractions and hadn’t paid attention to the language around secret political parties and even the reference to Mien Kampf. They got me—hook, line, and sinker. And I was offended. At some point, Steve said we shouldn’t applaud the Nazi—even after his big musical number. Steve was offended too. And then I realized, even more offensive were the actions of Frauline Schneider who broke off her engagement with the fruiterer, Herr Schultz, because he was Jewish, and she was afraid. Fear is the most offensive thing of all—it will cause us to act in ways we would never have considered and betray our beliefs, our values, even our loves.

There is a lot of fear in this world and yet, we don’t seem to be that offended by it. Instead, we seem to allow it to seep into our lives, entrenching itself in such a way that we have difficulty determining what is real fear and what is not. We allow sex and politics and football and socio-economics and a plethora of other things to distract and offend us when the real evils circle around and whisper sweet nothings to us—enticing our fears and courting our anxieties. The really offensive things of this world are so subtle, we barely recognize them until it is too late.  

It’s not totally our fault, we’ve been deconditioned to the more horrific aspects of things—made to believe they are only words or that someone will stand up and speak against a wrong and if they don’t then maybe it wasn’t so wrong after all. We limit ourselves to our own little part of the world and forget our interconnectedness—surely that won’t affect us. We minimize and rationalize instead of verbalizing the offense—probably out of fear that we might find ourselves guilty of the offense as well, or, at the very least, we are afraid that others wouldn’t agree with us. We are afraid to be offended by the real harms of the world and so we remain distracted by the vulgar ones.

At the end of Cabaret, the entire audience offered a standing ovation—even for Ernst. It was a good production. Rick Dildine, the director of ASF’s Cabaret, offered his understanding of the difference between art and entertainment. In the playbill’s “Director’s Note”, he said, “Art focuses our attention while entertainment distracts us.” As I stood clapping, it made me wonder how often I am distracted by the entertainment of the world; how often I am not only silent regarding the injustices of the world, but, at times, even applaud them.   

Light and Life,