Notes on “Notes from Underground”

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I thought about titling this note “Notes Squared.” lol

I don’t usually get to see the same play 4 times unless I’m in it, directing it, managing it, or somehow in charge of worrying about something connected to it (which tends to destroy my appreciation). Thus, such a refreshing change to simply enjoy seeing Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground staged at NCS this past weekend.  John & the Devil’s Advocate Players brought a wonderful show to our town.  I’m just sorry that so few people (relatively) ended up in the audience. [Sometimes I swear Anderson is a cultural wasteland. But even in this, God ordains our steps. *shrugs*  We tried.]

Anyway, I needed to see all 4 shows to really wrap my head around Dostoevsky’s words.  Their general gist made sense at the first run, mostly because the actors did their job. And the second half was so striking that it gripped my imagination, making further contemplation somewhat simpler.  We don’t usually get to see someone who’s that much of a jerk be so honest about his depravity.  Unless, of course, you’re reading Flannery. Then you get the thieving Bible salesman, the drifter who abandons a mentally handicapped girl in a diner, the self-righteous racist old lady.  Those folks would loathe Dostoevsky’s Underground Man and shift over a few seats in the coffee shop if he happened to walk in and start his tirade…. but he merely “has the courage to act out what they only conceive in their hearts.”

Anyway, as I sorted through the lines more smoothly each night, I noticed that Notes, unlike other plays I’ve watched multiple times, seemed to fly by much faster each time.  The ideas were so thick, they really did slow you down during your first hearing. Once the lightbulb clicked on and the words grew familiar, they soared. (Or plummeted, since this wasn’t exactly a happy show.)

It’s been funny to watch people’s reactions to Notes from Underground. The play is disturbing. If you understand what Dostoevsky is saying, you will be disgusted and angry that his assessment of the human condition is accurate. We want preachers to confront the “world” with its sin.  But as a Christian culture, we can’t stand to have anyone talk about OUR sin. Um, no…. that’s icky. And inappropriate. (The irony is amazing.)

Americans, of all people, don’t need to hunger after more ‘escapist’ storytelling. We have enough money, sex, and pleasure to dull our senses past all feeling.  “We must first be offended by the Gospel before we can ever bow the knee to King Jesus,” says my friend (and John’s pastor) Brad.


Current thoughts positioning themselves in my mind for followup & reflection:

  • How do I ignore or downplay my own sin nature when evaluating myself?  Am I more likely to seek salvation through self-loathing or self-righteousness? (Honestly, I think I sample both approaches in some kind of twisted buffet of bad thinking.)  The Gospel is bigger than the Fall. Shout it from the roof!
  • What would the Underground Man do if he ran into someone as absolutely mean & evil as himself? would it be some kind of cosmic battle of Evil vs Evil? What if Leza had fought back?
  • Irony is a powerful device in storytelling. To me, it is the most powerful. I think that’s why “Apropos of the Falling Snow” struck me so hard the first night.
  • It’s hard to get adults to buy tickets for shows that demand mental effort. Maybe it’s because parents are always so busy investing time and money in making their kids think. Maybe it’s just the bum economy. But it’s tough to get people to put down money for anything that won’t be “entertainment.”  [Don’t read my words too harshly — this is a brutal time of year, and I myself often miss really good shows because I can’t afford the money for tickets or the time out of my schedule. I’m just noting a general trend over the past few years, in my experience.]
  • What place should cold honesty have in our cultural expressions?  I don’t want to be a (neo)Platonist … but there is something to the idea that you learn to appreciate the good/true/beautiful by being exposed to the good/true/beautiful. What’s the balance? What about in the classroom?
  • John’s sweater looked really hot. [That’s “one-T hot” … as in “I hate wearing sweaters when it’s actually cold outside. Wearing one during a performance would be hell.”‘] LOL
  •  Perception and insight aren’t connected to age. And great stories speak to all ages. What other hard-but-good ideas should be brought to the stage so more people have access to them?

Am also thinking about the multiple roles of fathers and mothers as they image God to their children … my own interests in the arts of various kinds… lots of graphic design stuff for Curious Savage …. the high interest level that new friendship brings to conversation … and why our church’s coffee always seems to be so bleh. lol

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