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Homecoming from Hiatus: Storytelling on the Post-COVID Stage

We tell stories because we are the product of our own stories.

Written by: Riley Mann

In the earliest memories of my youth, my mother read me Goodnight Moon whenever it was time for my mind to shut off and slip into what I realize now is a relatively underappreciated variant of consciousness — from my perspective as an angsty and perfectly disciplined adolescent. The image of the bedroom in the picture book tells a story of a blooming generation; of course, such a generation dwindles by the storytelling abilities of the older (the wiser) demographic that brought them life and ultimately decided that their children shall obligate themselves to tell stories too: to their children, to their pupils.

The image, stirring in my mind as a familiar companion (and oftentimes an antagonist to the untrying discipline maintaining the flawless, undisturbed nature of how young minds consume bedtime stories) strikes me to a time less riddled, less complicated by the broadcasted digressions of the histories we live through and the hustle of life atypical. The image: a kit’s bedroom with an undergrowth of orange shag carpet (arguably a signature of 1940s household glamor, the decade of the storybook’s publication, which was also a time of bitter uncertainty); the curtains cast aside to display a sparkily populated night sky — by stars (big and small and everything in-between) sparsely directed by the gravitational nearness of the moon, peaking from the corner of the left window only to remind the kit and the mother of the kit alleviating in (what I assume) is a cozy Colonial-Revival-style house of its celestial influence; the kittens toying with yarn on the rug that I now theorize was produced by the mother bunny, crocheting in her rocky chair (she waits patiently as she awaits her kit’s slip into slumber); of course, the open concept ending at the smooth cobblestone that composes the fireplace, licking with flame on the inside; the kit, asleep or not asleep, juxtaposed with the shining lamplight and the bowl of unfinished porridge on their bedside. The image: a picturesque display of nostalgia. The image: lost up until writing this piece.

Nostalgia is a matter hardly understood, similar to our attitudes to the times we churn through. Because we see the wars on the news, we see the COVID-19 spikes, we see the shortages of everything green and everything vital. The only stories we will soon read are the ones only on the news, I fear dearly. We can wish goodnight to the “better times” — the times of childhood, of course, but even in the early years of an American, other detriments are imposed in camouflage — but never to the stars that speckle the night hardly noticed and the moon hardly worshiped. The cloak we cast over ourselves seems to be dark enough, too shadowy to strike down the difference between the day and the night.

“It is very strange to think back like this, although come to think of it, there is no fence or hedge round Time that has gone. You can go back and have what you like if you remember it well enough,” Richard Llewellyn writes in his 1939 novel, How Green Was My Valley, for the piece is a fictional stream of anecdotes on Huw Morgan’s childhood, a fragmented timepiece where this paradoxical matter of nostalgia jades the lasting momentum of the violence of these times. The “linear” syntax of the “good times” always contains a variable confounded in ripples left forgotten as human life gains the additive of cynical awareness; this awareness, almost as fatal as the ripples themselves, formulates violence as a phenomenon now contemporary.

The kit in the bedroom, asleep or not asleep, is a child seeing but not yet understanding what is occurring in the world around them. The mother of the kit knits profusely. She knits to remember the times visible and the times invisible. The mother tells stories to her child; she says goodnight to the moon, never realizing that these rituals were sacred and that these rituals were healing. The cynical awareness gained (to a rabbit, personified) seeps as a monster into the region before the frontal lobe, compacting into a biting spark as years pass, in her motherhood. It now resides in the hippocampus, a memory still striking only when a stormcloud covers the moon a few nights later.

The “good times” to the mother rabbit are just times, gray like the matter she gains more constantly than cynical awareness (now documented as awareness.)

Enduring a mass trauma, in recent years, poses a challenge colored weary by individuals unknowledgeable by the events that would follow the March of 2020. With the start of the first mass quarantine, the cast and crew of Dutch Country Playhouse’s Bedtime Stories (As Told by Our Dad) (Who Messed Them Up) had only followed through with their first readthrough, as well as a rehearsal period at the Telford residence. There was not one individual knowledgeable about what would follow, back in those times. All areas of typical life became unconventional. “Hiatus” was a term not understood by me up until recent months, working with the cast and crew backstage for the production. As the cast prepares for their second weekend of showings, love for the art of theatrics is true, and the anxieties of what turbulence might linger are true as well. Two years later, the show is on, as the show must go on.

We tell stories because we are the product of our own stories. Stories — not of “good times” — but of times. The properties of a good story: never strictly formulaic. Because these last two years were far from linear, straying too far from any logical progression of the seasons.

The stories presented by our red-and-white community theater are stories as steel as Goodnight Moon. This coming weekend, Bedtime Stories (As Told by Our Dad) (Who Messed Them Up), I predict will sail with variables dynamically healing to the memoriam of the people we were before the pandemic — the showings stand to remind the human spirit stretches eclectically when tasked with adapting to standards and environments unseen by no human before these times, in the 2020s.

Audience members may purchase their tickets online or at the door. Final showings will be on Friday, July 22 at 8 PM; Saturday, July 23 at 1 PM; and Saturday, July 23, at 4 PM. The outrageous twists on traditional fairytales and fables will cast the hex of fun-lovingness and remembrance for what the times were and remain to be: times where the young listen to the stories of the wiser, and the wiser heal to a place all the younger.

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