Many, Many, Stunted Men.
In Which I Combine All Three of the Musicals I was going to write about lately into ONE Piece… (believe me, I could go into several more)
(Content note for death, including suicide and religious/sexual trauma).
Nine. bare: a pop opera. (we hold by the ORIGINAL, not the musical.) Spring Awakening. All of those musicals were very formative, but a theme that unites them is women (and occasionally other men) bearing the brunt of men’s unresolved issues.
I encourage people to go back and listen through these three scores and watch clips (but not the movie Nine. Never the movie). They’re all really beautiful, but it’s hard to miss that the men across them, including the queer men in the cases of bare and Spring Awakening, are all deeply misogynistic. There are warning signs as to where they are in pain and conflict that should absolutely be addressed and resolved, but that doesn’t absolve them of their wrongdoings.
Some of the central themes in all three shows:
All three stories have strong Christian backgrounds. Now, I’m very Jewish, but I live in a semi-closeted Christian theocracy better known as the United States, so I know a decent amount about Christianity. Either way, I know a thing or two about religious-based shame from my own background, albeit different. Nine and bare are Catholic, and Spring Awakening is German Lutheran. There is a tension between the Church and the characters’ experiences outside of it.
Guido Contini from Nine is a filmmaker who is surrounded by women but never learned how to interact with them healthily; he either fears them or objectifies them, and either way, he is cruel to them. He objectifies them so much, in fact, that they are literally instruments at the top of the show, singing the overture. His exposure to nuns, his mother, and a sex worker as a young child and how each of those relationships played out is not a justification for his attitude or behavior as an adult, cheating on women, manipulating them to make his art; rather, it explains where his roots came from and where someone could have intervened.
“The question is: Shame. What is its origin? And why are we hounded by its miserable shadow?” -Melchior, Spring Awakening
Melchior Gabor and his friend Moritz Stiefel have two very different responses to their shame. Melchior decides the answer is to rebel and do whatever he wants in the name of reclaiming his independence from the church. Moritz is afraid of his feelings because he has been told that they are bad, and therefore that he is bad, so he represses himself to the point where he can no longer function. Both of them treat women like absolute garbage. Melchior explores, while Wendla suffers the consequences. Moritz is curious and fixates on women, but more than that, he shuts out any woman who tries to help him. A third character, Hanschen, is sorting out his life and seeks companionship in Ernst. Whether Hanschen is using him or liberating him is very much up for interpretation.
And in bare, there is a central character who is like Melchior, Moritz, and Hanschen combined, with some Catholic Guilt for good measure: Jason McConnell. In a time where people still believe that being queer is a sin, it is no shock that shame leads people to act out. Jason and Peter have a secret relationship. Jason tries to be more straight, so he sleeps with Ivy, Jason can’t escape his feelings for Peter or his inner conflict, and he leaves everyone in his wake.
In Peter's case in bare, his mom is really hesitant to accept him, and I’m not going to fault him for being afraid of her. He also completely treats Sister Chantelle like it’s her job to fix all of his problems, though. Meanwhile, Jason gets Ivy pregnant and doesn’t take any responsibility. Infidelity is often a sign of instability. Jason and Guido are both in immeasurable pain. How they choose to go about working on that that pain is inadvisable.
Similarly, Melchior knew what he was doing and got Wendla pregnant, but their parents kept them apart, so he could not step up and be responsible. Moritz essentially tries to extort Melchior’s mother to escape his own family.
Guido has a sense of fear and secrecy established from his mother's relationship after the incident with Sarraghina, the sex worker. He was nine years old, yet his mother and school shamed and blamed him for the interaction.
Guido consults with his younger self throughout the show, as he is emotionally still in that place, despite being a fully grown adult.
In bare and Spring Awakening, the characters are teenagers. They are not grown up, and some of them never get the chance to grow up. Their lack of coping skills proves fatal in some cases.
Jason and Moritz both lose their lives, but Guido’s inner child ultimately steps in to stop Guido (in most productions) from meeting a similar fate. Melchior also chooses to keep living because he is determined to let his friends live on through him. Immaturity is not the same thing as the hopefulness that is most often found in young people. Not being able to cope with pain is not the same thing as immaturity either. These boys/men are immature; they happen to have or lack some additional tools.
I would love to continue to work alongside women on shows like these to jointly unpack the side of the reinforced maladaptive behavior in the men and address the women’s feelings as they are mistreated time and time again. Falsettos and some other shows come to mind as well, but these three, spanning a few decades, really parallel each other in a number of ways.
The moral found in all these stories is that repression hurts more than it saves, and this is a public plea for men to GET. HELP. There are plenty of real-life men in and out of theatre whose stories mirror these. Change will only come if everyone, us men included, does the work.