Cait came into this world with extra helpings of compassion and empathy. It doesn’t take long for people to discover this about her. And it’s not surprising that her friends frequently put her in the role of confidant and mediator. But it’s a role she often finds stressful — she worries about the responsibility of remaining unbiased and fair.
That’s a tall order for an emotionally mature adult, never mind a 13-year old caught in the throes of trying to figure out the ways of the teen world. A teen world presently fraught with friendship feuds.
So when she asked me to chaperone her school trip to see the musical, Wicked, on Broadway, I agreed (even though I get miserably car-sick on buses), because I hoped it might present the chance for some interesting conversations.
For those not familiar with the play, it’s only very loosely based on the book. The Cliff Notes version is that it’s essentially a retelling of the Wizard of Oz story from the witches’ point of view.
Richard Zoglin, a reviewer, provides this pithy summary: “Turns out that Elphaba, better known to us as the Wicked Witch of the West, was born green, and that caused her to be shunned by the popular kids at school. The most popular of them all is Glinda, a perky prom queen used to getting her own way. The two become unlikely friends. But things go awry when Elphaba finds herself on the wrong side of the not-so-wonderful Wizard. He tricks her into using her spells to enslave the animals of the realm. Even though Elphaba is morally and ethically in the right, she’s the one who gets turned into the pariah–even Glinda abandons her–and, as if that weren’t enough, some farm girl’s house has fallen smack on her sister.”
One of the main themes revolves around questioning the comfortingly simple definitions of good and evil, and right and wrong. Another theme addresses some of the complexities of friendship and peer pressure among teens (in this case teens who happen to grow up to become iconic witches).
All timely topics for my daughter, who’s feeling the push and pull of some shifting friendships.
The play lived up to its word-of-mouth raves. We thoroughly enjoyed it. But it made for a very long day, starting at 4:00 AM. So on the long bus-ride home Cait was content to snuggle up next to me to try to sleep.
After she’d turned this way and that for several moments, she sat up and said, “You know what really blew me away, Mom?”
“No,” I said. “What?”
“When I watched The Wizard of Oz, it was all about how the Wicked Witch was so evil and mean. And how Dorothy was so helpful and good. And it was so easy to hate the witch and side with Dorothy. Now seeing this play and hearing the other side of the story, it’s not so easy to take sides…”
“So does that make it easier or harder for you to think about?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I guess a little of both.”
“The way I look at it–”
Before I could finish my thought Cait interrupted, “Mom, I really want to know what you think, but I’m too tired to concentrate.”
“Okay, I’ll keep it short and sweet.” I put my arm around her and she snuggled in. “There are three sides to every story.”
Cait looked up at me quizzically, “I know I asked for short, but that’s a little too short.”
I smiled and finished the saying, “Your side. My side. And the truth.”
She repeated what I’d said, as if to turn it over in her mind, “There are three sides to every story. Your side, my side, and the truth.” As she took that in, I could see the light bulb go on. “Dorothy’s side, Elphaba’s side, and the big picture of everything that happened, including those two sides.”
“Yep. Most people only see things from their own perspective, and they’re really invested in having you see things from that perspective. That’s human nature. But if you can avoid getting pulled into that, you’ll find it much easier to keep your balance. And that will help you to remember to always be on the lookout for the third side of the story. That’s really important.”
By now Cait had her head on my lap, nudging my arm to stroke her hair. She closed her eyes and sighed a contented sigh, as though a weight had been lifted off her.
“Thanks Mom,” she murmured. “That just helped me solve a problem with Allie and…”
She’d fallen into a peaceful sleep mid-sentence.
And with that, dear reader, I have to say, if you ever have a chance to see Wicked on Broadway, or somewhere closer to your neck of the woods, it really is a thought-provoking twist on the Oz story.