From Director Marti Gobel: BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

11:52 AM

Mark Twain offered the world one of the most beautiful myths in the American literary canon. A brilliant man, he found a way to show Americans how to look at themselves through humor, an awakening young man and the eyes of what has historically been among the most misrepresented and misunderstood groups of people in this country: black men. Given the prevailing attitudes of the time, this was a groundbreaking path for a writer to take.

The result is a hero’s journey, involving a young man who embraces the notion of unlearning the toxic messages of the world around him. Huck Finn is a true mythological manifestation of a boy on a journey. Jim is his North Star, his moral compass. But even with a compass such as Jim, Huck’s journey is not easy. To become that hero, Huck must leave where he is. To become a hero, Huck must enter into the unknown. To become a hero, Huck must depend on the love and kindness of a black man. To become a hero, Huck must ride the waves of the deep and wide Mississippi River. To take this journey, Huck and Jim must embrace the water as the vehicle that will carry them to their individual liberation.

If we focus on this hero’s journey and the complex relationship Huck has with his personal moral compass, then the water becomes a means to cleanse and baptize not only this most special relationship, but also a means to baptize us all from the sins of this country. The river embodies the flow of life into the body of the world! And through its presence in Huck and Jim’s journey, Twain invites us to actively engage in our personal evolution, in the face of a world that will inevitably offer challenges on the journey to self-growth.

If we can see the story of Huck and Jim as the deeply spiritual tale it is, then our theater becomes what theaters once were: a temple of sorts, in which the dimming of the lights prepares us to join these actors, invoking the divine as they embark on a storytelling journey toward our collective enlightenment.

We must, however, remember that every hero’s journey is messy and ugly and scary, as well as beautiful and transcendent. The journeys in our lives that matter most always involve risk as well as reward. But if we travel the Mississippi River together, we each have the chance to answer to the hero inside us, just as Mark Twain intended. Welcome aboard.

“I was born by the river …” (Sam Cooke)

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