We've just returned this evening from a senior theater showcase written and performed by a good friend of ours. The topic was a dark one: how one escapes from the prison of negative emotions. A dimly lit set was dominated by a shuttered door. A single light bulb, fading in and out, hung on a cord from the ceiling. Water dripped into a shallow pan. This was an eery interior landscape. 

The show moved through a series of vignettes: a childhood roller coaster of emotion as a longed for skateboard is trashed by the older neighborhood demi-god; a recurring vision of setting out on a path, confident and eager, only to end up sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire of emotion, being bogged down by feelings beyond one's control; the young adult musings of when the freedom to risk, to be vulnerable had been squelched, leaving fear to dictate thoughts and dreams.

I'm always caught by the appearance of laughter when I watch theater that is so painful. It seems out of character with the subject and raw emotions at hand.  Are we whistling in the dark, scoffing at the experience presented to us? Distancing ourselves, or trying to break the tension? Tonight I had a different theory. I wondered if we are sharing the moment with the actor, remembering that we have too been where the scene is taking us.

The last vignette retold the story of an evening drive born of the desire to head out into the dark cool night with nothing to achieve but freedom itself. In the winter landscape, the car swerves out of control, turning and rolling until it comes to a jarring stop. Into the disorienting loneliness of the night comes the voice of a stranger. "You will be OK. Help is on the way." Inexplicably, it seems, the young man is able to rest, comforted by the presence of another. 

Can it be that laughter in the midst of darkness is a way of acknowledging solidarity, of being community? Perhaps the very act itself, the sound of human voices moved to a common response, reminds us, no matter where we find ourselves, that we are not alone.



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