It’s fitting that I’m picking this blog back up right where I left it…in Oz. That’s right, I finally saw Wicked. And what an amazing show it is! It was brilliantly cast, had a beautifully designed set, the music was unforgetable and haunting, and the script does everything that Gregory Maguire failed to do in his novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West upon which the play is loosely based. Namely, it makes you care about the politics and spirit of Oz and empathize with Elphba, the wicked witch of the west as she comes of age and is ostracized from her friends and family.
For those not familiar with the plot, Wicked follows Elphaba, the wicked witch of the west and Glinda, the good witch, detailing their journey through Shiz, Oz’s University and exploring the question, what makes an evil person evil? Along the way, the viewer is provided with a revisionist history of the story presented in L. Frank Baum’s beloved children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In this telling of the story, things are not as clear cut. The “wicked witch” becomes so only after every honorable attempt she makes to bring restoration to those around her backfires and she is left with the sorrowful realization that “no good deed goes unpunished”. Often her attempts to help those around her only hurt them worse.
Glinda, on the other hand, is self-centered and superficial. The prom queen and primadonna of Oz who in a twist of fate is made to room with the social outcast, Elphaba. She is blissfully ignorant of how her actions affect others and has a feeling of entitlement. That is…until she begins to see Elphaba for whom she really is.
I don’t want to go any deeper than this so that I don’t spoil the plot for you, but suffice it to say, I recommend this show without reservation. It was everything I hoped it would be and lived up not only to the hype surrounding it, but also my two years of anticipation as I waited for an opportunity to see it.
I was struck once again, as I watched the show, with the role that choice plays in our lives. You’ll remember, I discussed this very same thing in my previous post from last April. It seems to have been this past year’s theme, because it came out again in July when I saw the critically acclaimed The Dark Knight movie. I think what made the Joker so frightening in that movie was the same thing that made Anton Chigurh, the villian from No Country for Old Men the same: chaos. There was a sense that the human will to make logical choices was absent in these men. Both seemed to base their decisions on nothing but the feeling of the instant. I got the sense that either one of them could have been inspired to murder by a feeling of indigestion from a bad burrito. Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight is such a tragic character mainly because he allows his emotions to control the choices he makes and he thus becomes a villian of passion.
Elphaba, alternatively, makes choices based on noble intentions. She strives to make things right…but there is a sense that whatever her intentions, her choices betray her. We are at our lowest point when we decide that our choices don’t matter. Whether this makes us choose flippantly or give up on our ability to choose, either way we have lost. I have a Christian friend who is losing her will to choose and thus drifting into agnosticism. I hear the chilling surrender in her voice. How can we know (enough to make a choice)? I try to reason with her, but reason has lost its convincing power in the weight of the impotence to know that envelopes her. The world is becoming impersonal for her and her choices are losing the eternal weight they once carried.
This is what makes Elphaba such a convincing, sympathetic character to me. Her noble choices backfire, yet she continues to strive, believing that the next one will succeed. She is doing the right thing and she knows it. Perhaps she will be vindicated in the end, perhaps not, but the point is she still has the courage to choose to do right whether or not others understand her. Yes…the Wicked Witch of the West has integrity! How’s that for a plot twist?