Okay, last week I was listening to Breaking Benjamin while writing about Puccini's La Boheme. This week I'm taking it one step further and comparing the generation of the latest version of "Dear Agony" with Southwest Shakespeare's production (by Tier 5) of "Meg Jo Beth Amy & Louisa."
I can't just talk about the play because my feelings on it are mixed. On the one hand, it delivered striking emotional chords the likes of which I don't remember seeing since the January 2017 Hamlet (oh, that was one was amazing). On the other, I'm uninterested in mixing things up and modernizing things just for the sake of mixing up and modernizing--for instance, why does the audience get so excited whenever they add in cuss words, is that really that creative?
And I also can't just talk about "Dear Agony." It's part of Breaking Benjamin's new acoustic album, Aurora, and it has the exciting first collaboration with Lacey Sturm formerly of Flyleaf (their Memento Mori is probably my top album of all). So I can say, yeah, that's a great song and so is the story about how they came to collab and the possibility of them doing a whole album together. Her comment to him about how the song is Jesus in Gethsemane is really a reflection of the relation between art, the artist, and the processing of emotion.
And that's where we come back to the play. It is so-titled as it is because it shows Lousia May Alcott writing Little Women and fighting with her publisher over what she doesn't want to write (we all know she had no interest in writing a book for little girls). She is literally onstage with her characters, deciding what they will do, trying to find a connection by writing about her own family, and then along the way realizing that she is invested in this story because it has become something that she does care about.
On one hand, Little Women is as flat as her publisher wanted. On the other, it is quite a contrast to other moral stories of the day and that's why it has continued to be read even today. She did what was asked and somehow tweaked it just enough that it wouldn't be too shocking as to not be published and yet that it would be enough that it would subtly start to shift things. Meg's Mishaps particularly stands out to me; she didn't just write about the good wife, she wrote about a young wife crying over the jelly that didn't jell and getting into the first friction with her husband over buying expensive clothing fabric. So Louisa wrote the moral tale--but she somehow also wrote real at the same time.
What does this have to do with Breaking Benjamin and Lacey Sturm? Throughout the play, we see Louisa struggling with her relationship not just to her publisher but also to her past and to her family and to her society and to herself. Through the creation of the book and the unraveling of her memories that comes with it, she is able to forgive people in her life (whether her sister or her father), to appreciate things in her life (particularly her sisters), and to better come to terms with her place in the world. So it is essentially an emotional unwinding process. Like what led to the Aurora collaboration.
On the one hand, you have Benjamin Burnley writing a rock song with whatever inspiration. Then Lacey Sturm comes in (I love that picture of them where she doesn't even come close to reaching his shoulder) saying, this is what your song is about. And then he in a way agrees to take on that interpretation by inviting her to collab with him on the new version. So the song starts angling into a new or perhaps simply more full meaning as the artist's relationship with it develops. Emotional unwinding.
The play is over, but here is the Spotify link to the Aurora version of "Dear Agony."