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The Graduate

Culture, culture, culture!

Katelyn Phelan
MSM Class of 2011

(12/2011) Most people do not miss school. They do not miss taking notes and writing papers. Most people are not nerds. Unfortunately in this case, I am not part of "most people." Itís been 6 full months since Iíve graduated from the Mount, and the thing I most sorely miss about school, is learning.

Of course Iím learning tons of things now, but theyíre not academic things. Iím learning the best phrasing when emailing a parent, or how strict to be concerning late homework assignments. While useful, these things are not very interesting. Iíve been craving real learning. But, in lieu of taking a class myself (no matter how much I might wish for it, I would need to eliminate sleep from my schedule to fit it in), Iíve begun to take advantage of the culture that sits nestled only short distances from Emmitsburg.

One of the most wonderful things about this area is of course how beautiful it is, but also how close it is to everything. Little old Emmitsburg is just a stoneís throw from Washington D.C. and Baltimore, and a drive of a few hours to the Big Apple. And honestly, thatís part of the appeal, at least for me, to this area. I like being about to live "in the middle of nowhere" and see cows and vast corn fields on a daily basis, but still be able to go see a show without having to take a flight somewhere to do so. Lately Iíve been taking advantage of our proximity to these rich cultural centers.

At the end of October, I made the drive to D.C. to see Les Miserables. This musical has been a wild success for the past 25 years. Itís based on Victor Hugoís tome of 1000 pages, about a man Jean Valjean, who steals bread to feed his sisterís starving family. Heís put in jail for a number of years for his crime and when he is finally released, he canít get a job because of his record. He decides to change his name and he rises to the position of mayor after a number of years. However, Jean Valjean is still being hunted by a perseverant parole officer.

This officer suspects an innocent man is Jean Valjean because of his impressive strength, and arrests him. The real Jean Valjean has a crisis over whether to turn himself in, and ultimately decides to reveal himself. However, he has promised a dying woman, Fantine, that he will look after he illegitimate daughter, Cosette. Valjean asks his parole officer for three days so he can go provide for the girl. The man refuses, and Valjean knocks him out and escapes.

Valjean raises the girl, who eventually falls in love with a young revolutionary, Marius. Marius is busy leading a group of students in revolution. Valjean show up among them and recognizes his parole officer disguised as a spy. Instead of killing the man, he spares him and smuggles him out of the fighting. The officer, unable to bear this act of kindness from a man he has been hunting, commits suicide. Valjean meanwhile carries a wounded Marius away from the fighting, saving his life.

Cosette and Marius marry, and Valjean, old and sick, prepares to die. He finally reveals to Cosette the truth about her past, and she and Marius thank him for his kindness. He dies; the play ends.

The musical is three hours long; I think you can see why after reading this summary! Itís action packed and fast-paced, making it a delight to watch. It is the first musical Iíve ever seen where there is not a single word spoken. Everything is sung. However, all the words are in English, which my boyfriend was greatly relieved to discover. He was scared I had dragged him to a three hour show in French. Though heís not generally a huge fan of musicals, he was certainly entertained by Les Mis.

Les Miserables is the second show Iíve seen at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and both shows were magnificently done. The singing and acting was superb, as were the sets and costumes. The Kennedy Center is also beautiful. The tickets are a little pricey, especially if you want to sit close to the stage, but the experience is wonderful. Buy your tickets early because they sell out quickly!

A few weeks later I went to see Othello at the Folger Shakespeare Library, also in D.C. This theater sits in the shadow of the Capitol building and was as delightful as the Kennedy Center, though in a different way. The Folger is one of the most important and prestigious locations for the study of Shakespeare. It has a kind of museum that has a small display of rare books, like Shakespeareís First Folio, which is the first collection of some of his plays, like Hamlet. The book is one of the rarest and most valuable in the world, priced at 4-6 million dollars! The Folger also has early copies of the King James Bible, some of which have mistakes like "thou shalt kill" which seems like a pretty serious mistake to me!

The actual theatre is very intimate. It only holds about 300 people. I sat in the center area, six rows away from the stage, which also happened to be two rows from the back. There was also a balcony where some people sat. The actors and actresses interacted with the audience, moving up and down the center aisle, speaking from the balcony, and at times asking the audience questions.

The play Othello is one of Shakespeareís most famous plays. Well, I suppose all of Shakespeareís plays are quite famous, but Othello is one frequently read in schools. The play feature Othello, a general. He has just promoted Cassio, leaving Iago, who wanted the promotion, furious. Iago manipulates everyone in the playóOthello and his wife, Desdemona, Cassio, and even Iagoís own wife, Emilia. Iago creates an unbelievable amount of strife between all the other characters; through his lies, he turns all of them away from each other and closer to himself. He incites some to rage, and they murder the people they once loved and trusted. At the end, Iago is left standing among a sea of dead bodies. His deceit is revealed, and he awaits some kind of punishment.

As with all of Shakespeareís tragedies, Othello is heart-wrenching. The play makes you as an audience member want to shout out "No! Go talk to the person youíre mad with and sort it out! Youíll see the lies Iago has created!" But of course you canít. The play is powerful and still applicable to today because of its timeless themesólove, racism, betrayal, and jealousy. Though Iíve read the play before, seeing it performed is so much more powerful. The acting was brilliant, the scenery stunning, and the whole experience was just wonderful. Best of all? I got a parking spot on the street directly in front on the theatre, and it was a Sunday so I didnít have to pay a parking meter!

Seeing these wonderful pieces of literature performed has staunched my desire for college classes a bit. Iím making an effort to do something cultural once a month and in our area, this is not too expensive or hard to accomplish. Next up? The Holocaust Museum.

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan