Here’s a sharp-edged irony for you: Charlottesville was recently selected “Third Happiest City in the US” by National Geographic. But, since the events of July and August here, the name of our hometown has also become a sociopolitical tag: “Ever since Columbine…., Since Newtown…, In light of Ferguson…,” and now, “Since Charlottesville….” Happiest of places to live? Flashpoint for racially charged violence? Yes and Yes.
Such were the lovely tropical islands of the South Pacific in the early 1940’s, simultaneously balmy paradises of “sunlight on the sand…, moonlight on the sea…, mangoes and bananas you can pick right off a tree,” and strategic footholds for both sides that saw some of the bloodiest action of the whole war. And it was the conflict itself that threw together individuals from several different groups into these coral sand crucibles: American military personnel, French colonial planters, native Polynesians and Vietnamese. These are the players in the drama of Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, from which Rodgers and Hammerstein distilled the musical South Pacific, Covenant’s winter musical.
Ensign Nurse Nellie Forbush meets the exotic, mysterious Frenchman, Emile de Becque at an officers’ club dance. It’s love at first sight, and the effervescent optimist from Little Rock, Arkansas jumps into this romantic adventure with both feet --- until she discovers de Becque’s two children by a former Polynesian wife. Nellie puts the brakes on hard as she reconsiders entering a biracial family. She’s well aware that this would never pass muster back home in Little Rock.
Meanwhile, Lt. Joe Cable arrives on the island to lead a dangerous espionage mission further up the island chain. But before he can get underway, he also meets and falls in love with a lovely, shy Tonkinese girl, Liat. Her mother, the lovable and feisty entrepreneuse Bloody Mary, angles winsomely to get Cable to marry her daughter and take her home with him to Philadelphia and a far better life there. Cable and Liat do indeed fall into the hoped-for love, much to Mary’s delight; but the prospect of taking Liat Stateside as his wife to the folks back home after the war is more than he can stomach as well.
And so the “happiest island in the South Pacific” becomes the very place where human love runs smack into the barrier of race and ethnicity. Nothing’s new under the sun.
We chose this show precisely because, embedded in the tale of the two wartime romances, are difficult issues that continue to afflict our world, whether on Bali H’ai or the streets of Charlottesville. What happens when us meets them? When do differences become insurmountable? Does the Gospel speak to these all-too-human tendencies of ours to seek out heavens-on-earth even while packing our own poisonous prejudices? In what ways could the various communities within the Covenant Family meet each other more honestly, openly, deeply? Do we cede this ground with a sigh of resignation, that “people will always be clannish like this,” and “we’re just better when we stick to our own kind"? Or is there in fact a way forward toward a new kingdom/society in which dividing walls of hostility are broken down by the potent work of Christ, and those who are far off and those who are near are remade into one new body? The mystical illusion of Bali H’ai was not enough. We really do need something tougher here at Covenant, here on the streets of Charlottesville.
// The Upper School Theater Department will present its annual full-scale musical, South Pacific, March 1 - 3, 2018. //
Located in Charlottesville, VA, The Covenant School is a non-denominational, private, Christian day school for Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, visual and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.