It all began with a text I had received from my mom approximately four days prior to Fall Break: “Clear your schedule for this upcoming Saturday,” it read. “We’re going into the City at 5:45 for your final birthday surprise.”
As I had celebrated my birthday just a week prior to Fall Break, it was the very first time I had not been awoken to the sweet aroma of freshly made chocolate chip pancakes, steaming hot coffee, all accompanied by a side of extremely ripe berries, prepared by Mother Dearest. It was the first time I hadn’t been home to see the jolting excitement gleaming from my mother’s eyes as I had turned one year older. Rather, this year had been spent in close proximity to a variety of new friends, new adventurous foods, and a completely contrasting city than my hometown of New York. While all of these factors were of course enticing, and being away from home on my 18th birthday sure had its perks, I maintained an utter void within my heart that seemingly could not be filled.
The days before break truly could not have moved slower, but I had finally arrived home after an exhausting trek through Hartsfield Jackson into Laguardia Airport on Friday evening. I was initially tackled down by my two dogs, and was welcomed into the familiarity of home once again.
“Okay so, I didn’t want to cook too much, but I’ve prepared a few things for your arrival this weekend,” my mom began to emphatically recite every meal she had cooked throughout the past week ~ WITH a broken wrist. “I made you roasted chicken, your favorite Maztoh Ball Soup, sweet potato pie, brisket and a variety of vegetables. Oh, and I also made a Kugel with this new recipe I tried. I also bought a turkey, so you’ll tell me if you want me to make that too, okay?”
My mouth dropped wide open and I began to crack up. “Ma,” I said, “you really didn’t have to go through all that trouble. But thank you so much, I’ve really missed your cooking.”
And I meant that sincerely; Becoming a first-year college student has allowed me to recognize and appreciate all that I was granted while growing up, and just how lucky I’d been to have someone in this world who cares so deeply for me. I took a walk through the kitchen, and wow, the aroma truly smelt incredible. I guess since I was absent for the Jewish holidays she wanted to replicate every single meal for me. And, well, that is what she did.
As Saturday evening approached, my patience was wearing thin. My mom came into my room with a blindingly bright smile, exclaiming: “I got us tickets to Dear Evan Hansen!!!!”
I was booming with enthusiasm. Up until the age of nine, my annual birthday celebrations would usually entail seeing some form of Broadway Show with my Mom: either Mary Poppins, Wicked, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, and many others. With that thought in mind, I immediately harkened back to those special moments we shared together when I was a child. Excitement prevailed, so we quickly scarfed down some steaming hot soup and went on our way. As we arrived, we made our way to our respective seats and awaited the performance.
As a spectator, I initially noticed the purposeful lighting on stage: blue lighting to represent sadder moments; whiter tones to represent suspense; warm yellow tones to represent happiness. I began to analyze the performativity of the show, not only while enjoying the vibrant song and role play, but to better comprehend the producer’s intended rhetoric for the audience of Broadway.
I had been looking forward to seeing this Broadway show for quite some time. The story line is as follows: Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is a seventeen year old High School student, diagnosed with an anxiety disorder simply out of his own control. Wearing a striped short-sleeved shirt, he sits on his bed and pecks away at his computer, only somewhat hindered by the hard white cast on his left arm. As he types on his computer — FaceTimes, iChats, Facebook images, and Tweets — are projected onto walls which surround him. But the person Evan is writing to is in the room; He doesn’t have many friends, and on the advice of his therapist, he addresses supportive letters to himself in order to improve his self-esteem.
As a culprit of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I too felt extremely moved and consistently taken back at how relative and spot-on Ben Platt’s performance was; Tears, laughs, and wales erupted from all members of the audience. Almost every person was wiping their eyes at some point or another. However, what truly struck me was the main actor’s iconic mannerisms: the hunched posture he maintained throughout the show, the facial tics and nail-biting with repetitive worrying of his fingers at the seam of his pants, the way in which he never for a moment lost his finely grained physical expression of Evan, even in the midst of the 11 songs that he performs (three of which are wrenching solos). He conveys such longing, loneliness, guilt and shame in those songs through his vocals – of course – but also through the many pained contortions of his body and face.
It’s hard to envision a character in a musical who is so relatable to so many people in the crowd each night — teenagers struggling with anxiety, parents clinging to whatever fine thread still connects them to their kids, people who are ashamed of something they’ve done or who fear that they are unlovable. It seems like a more intense level of responsibility, psychologically speaking, than most Broadway stars have ever had to bear.
As the show came to a close, my mom and I were emotionally drained. With a look of exhaustion and sadness swept across our faces, this profound performance moved us in ways in which I’ve never really experienced before.
We then took a long stroll to the parking garage and decided to stop for a classic slice of pizza on the way. The show was so moving, insightful, and unique that it truly left us speechless. We shoveled mouthfuls of pizza into our faces and smiled. We weren’t speaking, but we both just happy. My mom maintained her genuine grin and muttered, “I couldn’t have imagined seeing this show with anyone else; It was just so perfect.”
I nodded and agreed, and thanked her for such a wonderfully special evening. As we stepped into the car and took our quick ride back to Long Island, it struck me: I was never able to view just how unique and worthwhile the maintenance of such a close mother/daughter relationship can be. I felt so lucky that night to have seen such a heart-wrenching performance next to a woman with a heart bigger than this world. I will always cherish how close we are, the laughs we share, and the cries we’ve endured simultaneously, as I believe our relationship will remain strong for the rest of my life.