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"Throughout all the illusions and tricks of life, Love is there."
Raymond Teague is the author of Reel
Spirit: A Guide to Movies That
He is an award-winning
His book is available by clicking the "Buy the Book" link above or by clicking here.
"Reel Spirit" Movie Reviews
The Fantasticks (video review)
The Fantasticks is in many ways the story of life, and the play -- the longest-running show in the history of the American theater and the longest-running musical in the world -- has been a part of my life for more than thirty years.
My wife and I have been Fantasticks groupies since we first saw the play in New York City in 1970 at the Sullivan Theater, the play's Off-Broadway home since its premier in 1960. We've seen dozens of productions, including high school, college, community theater, and professional theater versions.
Written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, The Fantasticks is a terse story of young love (there is this boy, there is this girl...) traditionally told with an eight-person cast and a spare set in a small theater. The musical score -- lovely, joyous and sentimental, including "Try to Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain" -- captures the essence of existence. We've been anxious for a movie version for years, and it has finally arrived -- on video, after being filmed in 1995.
From a Reel Spirit perspective, there is much to appreciate in The Fantasticks. The story reflects humankind's archetypal, timeless efforts to "try to remember" the spirit of love within and all around us and to cultivate an appreciation of that love. It is a deceptively simple story that explores the "sweet mysteries" and illusions of love and life, innocence and experience.
Love and innocence are perfectly portrayed in the characters of the girl, Luisa (Jean Louisa Kelly), who longs "to do the things I've dreamed about but never done before" and "much more," and the boy, Matt (Joe McIntyre), who thinks of Luisa as "love better far than a metaphor could ever, ever be."
Luisa and Matt are the personification of pure love, the sort of love that we can imagine exists beyond the physical, beyond the earthly challenges, and a stage of love that we know can be achieved in relationships when we let go of human limitations and the ego. We may come into this world in pure love and innocence -- "trailing clouds of glory," as Wordsworth wrote -- and we must exercise that love within the human framework until we understand that it is love that truly matters after all.
The struggles of life give us lessons to learn about the love we really are. The two fathers in The Fantasticks and El Gallo are agents who help present the necessary lessons to Luisa and Matt. Luisa's father (Joel Grey) and Matt's father (Brad Sullivan) are neighbors feigning a feud in order to bring their children together (illustrating a paradox of life that people tend to want to do what they are told not to do). They hire El Gallo, a "Master of Illusions" who is the leader of a traveling carnival, to stage an abduction in which Matt can play the hero and thus secure his bond with Luisa.
The young lovers learn that few things in life are as they really seem to them. The story pits innocent expectations against realities of perceptions. "You have to be my hero," Luisa tells Matt, who has gargled with salt water to kill any germs before he kisses Luisa. They have a lot to learn about the world and its ways, and El Gallo leads them through the pathways of life and helps them learn how to correctly interpret experiences.
In a physical fight with Matt, El Gallo says, "You have grace and enthusiasm, but as in all things, experience counts for everything." He sings in "Try to Remember" that "without a hurt, the heart is hollow." In other words, it seems that hurts are necessary in life because we learn and grow emotionally, psychologically and spiritually through them. From such a viewpoint, hurts and challenges have a natural, needed function in our lives.
To their credit, both Luisa and Matt are in the consciousness to learn. Matt, through the song "I Can See It," acknowledges that he is ready to learn. Matt knows that he needs the experience of the world's reality and the skills to love in a world of illusions. "Bright lights somewhere invite me to come there and learn," Matt sings. Luisa, reprising "Much More," also realizes that she needs experience to love in a world of illusions. As Matt is learning about the world's "bright lights," El Gallo shows Luisa that "life is a colorful carousel, reckless and gay."
People get caught up in their own perceptions and expectations, El Gallo knows. Luisa tells him that all of her young life, she has "waited for something magical to happen."
El Gallo replies, "What if it's all illusion, slight of hand?" Life is full of tricks and illusions, he knows, "and when you're dealing with tricks, what you see isn't always what you get. I'm warning you to be careful."
Himself a mystery man who orchestrates and creates magic and who seems both awed and saddened by life's ways, El Gallo asks, "Who understands . . . why we must all die a bit before we grow again?"
A master of paradoxes as well as illusions, El Gallo gets to the heart of life with the understanding that it is necessary to die to (or let go of) attachments to physical life and experiences before we can remember or get back to our spiritual self or true love.
When we can see who and what we really are, one with infinite Love, then we can see all experiences as a part of that Love and know that we can never be separated from that Love. Throughout all the illusions and tricks of life, Love is there, in everything and everyone to which we extend our love, "better far than a metaphor could ever, ever be."
When such Truth dawns to us, El Gallo indicates, then we are to "follow, follow."