The tragedy of Fanny Gabor, and theatrical asides

I saw the musical Spring Awakening at the Fringe, and I liked it but found it depressing. Parts were compelling and parts sort of dragged. I also really liked some of the music. Since then I’ve been listening to the Broadway-version soundtrack and the music’s really grown on me, and I’ve been hearing a lot about the show from an actor friend who is very fond of it. So I guess I’ve changed my mind about not wanting to see it again.

Grant McEwan is going to be performing Spring Awakening at the end of October and first weekend of November. I’m going to go see it on the first Saturday in November.

Also, I’m going to see Next To Normal the weekend after that – that’s the musical about the effects of mental illness on a family, which a friend in California recommended last year.

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In Spring Awakening, in the song “And Then There Were None”, the despairing teenage character Moritz has written to his best friend’s mother, asking her for help, specifically money to flee to America which he thinks is the only solution to his problems. The friend’s mother, Fanny Gabor, responds to him in a spoken-word monologue, and he sings his anger and frustration about her answer, now seeing no way out except suicide.

The play is about the teenagers and their troubles. It’s not about Fanny Gabor. But I keep thinking about her. She’s only in a few scenes of the play, but you can see that she’s a kind person who pays attention to her son and his friend, who respects them and wants the best for them. She won’t give Moritz the money to escape, partly because she doesn’t have it and partly because she doesn’t think it’s a good idea. She reassures him that she likes and respects him, she offers to intervene with his angry parents, she points out that lots of successful men had trouble in school, and she directly addresses his veiled hints of suicidal plans. She does exactly what I’d hope to do in that situation.

As far as I’m concerned, Fanny Gabor does everything right.

It’s not enough.

And because the play isn’t about her, we don’t see any more about that, except that she’s one of the people putting a flower on Moritz’ grave in the next song. She goes on to worry about her own son, who’s got himself in a different kind of mess, and nobody in the play has an unequivocally happy ending because it’s not that kind of play.

The more I listen to the recording, the more Fanny Gabor reminds me of me, though. I like supporting and appreciating young people and like Fanny Gabor I’m flattered when they consider me a friend. And when they’re in trouble, I worry about them and I do what I can to help them, and I try to make choices for that help that are balanced and appropriate.

Some of my friendships are more balanced and reciprocal than others. Some of the help I’ve provided has been rewarding for me. And sometimes I’ve been sad and angry to discover that the person is unwilling or unable to take my advice, or that the help provided isn’t sufficient to enable the person to rescue himself or herself in the way I’d envisioned.

Fanny Gabor’s story reminds me that those are the costs of being a compassionate person and an amateur helper. And her story also reminds me that maybe I’ve been lucky so far. I haven’t yet encountered a situation where my help wasn’t enough to deter someone from suicide. But I might. No matter how good I am at saying and doing the right things, that’s not going to be within my control. And that would really suck.

All I can do is to be thoughtful about who I reach out to and what I do and say, to have realistic expectations of how I might make a difference for my friends, to let them know how I want them to treat me, and to take care of myself.

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