Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wicked Assumptions


Assumption: anything accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof

In March, while in New York, I saw the Broadway play, Wicked. Back in my hotel room that night at the Park Central on 7th Avenue, I ruminated over the complexities of this Ozian play, adapted from Gregory Maguire’s novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. As I thought about poor Elphaba, the notorious WWW, I couldn’t get Kermit the Frog’s melancholic dirge out of my head: It’s Not Easy Being Green...

I loved everything about Wicked, especially the “innuendo, outuendo” word play built upon the rich anti-philosophical musings of Galinda, the “I happen to be genuinely self-absorbed and deeply shallow!” Good Witch of the North: "Magic wands, need they have a point?" But underneath the deeply shallow layers of humor, civil rights, and animal cruelty, I stumbled upon my very own “bizarre and unexpected twister of fate”—a confirmation of a theme that I have been formulating over the past several months after a series of odd relationship blows. My theme revolves around the problem of assumption and the fallout that can occur from the mindless action of making both rational and irrational assumptions.

First of all, I have an innate aversion to the word. Assumption. It starts with the prefix, ass-, which reminds me of other unpleasant words: assail, assault, assassination. As an avid friend collector, (try 1,101 on my steadily growing facebook page), I make every effort to steer clear of making assumptions about people. If I’m perplexed over someone’s actions or appearance, I search for facts first, ignoring the temptation to lump everything into one big hairy assumption and jump to my own most-likely misguided conclusions. Concerning the two or three people in my life who have recently assailed me with their misguided assumptions, all I can say is that I wish they had gotten their facts straightened out before lashing out against me. It hurt quite a bit in each of these non-related incidents, but as vexed as I felt, I could not conjure enough anger within me to retaliate. This is probably because my rendition of Kermit’s song has always been It’s not easy being mean.

For Elphaba, her green complexion sets others off when they see her. People assume she’s been cursed and treat her accordingly. Because of this wicked assumption, Elphaba’s dedication to helping the helpless goes unnoticed. She has taken care of her wheelchair-bound sister, Nessarose, all her life. She also cares deeply about the mistreatment of animals to the extent that she is sure the Wizard of Oz can solve the problem. "After all," Elphaba says, "that's why we have a Wizard."

When she becomes outraged over a frightened lion cub in a cage, Elphaba casts a spell that causes everyone except her one admirer Fiyero to gyrate out of control. Elphaba and Fiyero then steal the cub and set it free in the woods. Then she casts a winged spell on a host of caged monkeys, only to discover that Oz is not a wizard after all, and that the flying monkeys will be used as spies to further oppress the rest of the animals.

Even Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose, turns against her after Elphaba saves a munchkin named Boq by turning him into the Tin Man. Boq assumes that Elphaba turned him into the Tin Man because she’s evil. The lion cub that Elphaba and Fiyero freed at Shiz becomes the Cowardly Lion, and everyone assumes his cowardice is Elphaba’s fault because "…if she had let him fight his own battles when he was young, he wouldn't be a coward today."

After these assumptions begin to haunt her, Elphaba tries to cast a spell to save Fiyero's life but thinking she has failed again, she sings “No Good Deed” and succumbs to her wicked status.

Ultimately, when the Scarecrow is revealed to be Fiyero, transformed by Elphaba's spell, Elphaba fakes her death, which must be kept secret even from her finally trusted friend, Galinda-turned-Glinda, to protect her. Glinda mourns her green friend's death but the citizens of Oz celebrate it, while Elphaba and Fiyero secretly leave Oz forever.

L. Frank Baum would have marveled over the way Broadway has funneled his classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, into an interpretive whirlwind of true friendship, one that surpasses color and the wicked assumptions that have destroyed one green girl too many.

At least Kermit’s a frog, I thought to myself as I drifted off to sleep that night in New York. He’s supposed to be green…