People often cry at the opera. It is almost a cliché. “Bring a hankie” is standard admonition to anyone on their way to their first Madama Buterfly or La Boheme. However, the tears of those who watched the film version of “Dead Man Walking” at the Circle Cinema last Tuesday night were different. There is nothing sentimental, melodramatic or “touching” about a story that deals with the brutal taking of two young lives, the grief of parents burying their children, the terror of a man who knows exactly when and how he is going to die, and one woman’s struggle to gain redemption for a man whose actions cannot be undone.
The experience of watching Dead Man Walking the opera is even more intense. It’s harder to watch this story unfold in front of your eyes, unfiltered by a lens and a screen. You feel as naked and helpless as the murdered teenagers, as devastated and outraged as the parents, as terrified of the lethal injection as the murderer and as overwhelmed as the woman who tries to heal and redeem. You break down and cry, and hang on to the music for comfort.
Dead Man Walking is hard to watch, and it’s hard to perform. The cast has to take frequent breaks in rehearsals and can repeat scenes only so many times in one session. This is the kind of theatre that hollows you out to make room for empathy and understanding. Not many of our audience will leave the theatre whistling the tunes, but most will find themselves re-visiting the story and the music in their minds and sharing their thoughts with friends and relatives for days and weeks after the performance.