The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

     by Dirk Kuiper

Just when I was worried I would never find a play I liked! Most of the plays I've read for this project so far have hovered around the C- territory, some dipping catastrophically lower, so this was a very pleasant surprise. Don't let the laughable cover art fool you (I suspect Kuiper, whose play does indeed have its moments of Lloyd Webber influence but which is on the whole more based on Leroux's novel, was not consulted when it came to marketing); this does some really interesting things. Kind of super weird bizarre things, even, but in an interesting way.

 

The synopsis at the beginning asserts that Kuiper wants to focus more primarily on the character of Christine than most versions do; since she was pretty much the fulcrum of the entire original story, I have no issue with that. It also says a great number of other things that look like frothy nonsense, but we'll get to those as they happen within the script itself.

 

According to the cast list, Carlotta is given the new surname Salvador, which fits into her Spanish background well (though it is slightly ironic, considering that it means "savior" and that Carlotta is definitely not the savior character in this story). Raoul's surname has been elided together into "deChagny", which, while pronounced the same, is a little baffling since Kuiper is ostensibly following Leroux's text and I'm not sure why he would change its spelling.

 

Act 1:

 

Scene 1:

 

While Kuiper is definitely drawing heavily from Leroux's text, there are still several points that make it clear that he is also influenced by Lloyd Webber's popular musical, and the most obvious of these is the treatment of Carlotta. Where she was simply a well-trained but slightly uninspired singer in the original novel, whose major crime was occupying a space in which the Phantom wished to place Christine, here she is a shrewish, jealous nightmare of a person (though at least the ever-popular cop-out of also making her a bad singer is not present); this makes her much less sympathetic for the audience, which in turn makes bad things happening to her less objectionable, the better to keep the Phantom's sympathetic image intact. We start the show out with Christine filling in for Carlotta, who simply didn't show up for tonight's performance as part of a staged illness intended to remind the managers of her power over them as their headliner.

 

Another choice that seems to have obvious overtones from Lloyd Webber's musical is the elevation of Meg Giry to a major character, as a friend and confidante to Christine. While I would not normally look much further, Meg has so much plot of her own happening in this play that I wonder if this is a non-derivative choice after all, and, if so, what it is that causes writers to choose that particular character (why not Sorelli? Jammes? The Persian? Philippe?) to flesh out and enhance into a major role. It might have to do with the fact that she is in some ways similar to Christine - a young performer (though rather younger than the Swedish singer) with an ambitious guardian - and it makes her an easy choice for a sidekick character, or just that she's a convenient vessel in which to distill all the ballerina characters of the original novel. Food for thought.

 

You know what this play does that I love? Period sensibilities! Yes, the managers are quite aware of what Raoul heading off to "talk" to Christine alone in her dressing room probably entails, wink wink, nudge nudge. This will come up several times over the course of the drama, while I did an impromptu jig that, even if it was sometimes handled loosely, at least someone noticed.

 

The character of Madame Giry hovers somewhere between her original role (she's still the keeper of Box 5, and still quite superstitious and staunch in her belief in the ghost) and a more active, center-stage one a la Lloyd Webber's version (she seems to be around all the time, offering her insight and harassing her daughter instead of spending most of her time at the boxes).

 

And why is she harassing her daughter? Well, because little Meg has struck up a romance with none other than Joseph Buquet, of all people, and she doesn't exactly approve (hardly conduct for a future Empress!). Buquet, contrary to his original incarnation, appears to have been youthened a bit to go with Meg's aging, placing them conveniently around the same age, and to be a bit of a rogue but ultimately good-intentioned, reminding me a little of the young man from the 1989 Little/Englund film. Their romance, surprisingly, seems both sweet and touchingly genuine; Buquet appears to dedicate a lot of time to searching for the Phantom and finding his many trapdoors and secret passages, but he promises to stop for Meg's sake when she becomes afraid of the ghost's retribution. Interestingly enough, she mentions that there have been previous deaths; these are an added element, since Buquet himself was the first death in Leroux's novel, and they provide a more immediate sense of danger for the characters and audience as well as allowing Buquet to... well, to not be dead right away.

 

Meg and Buquet also gossip a bit about the nobleman (Raoul) visiting the actress (Christine) in her dressing room, again showing that the relationship between the two is pretty much presumed to be about a specific thing, ahem ahem. All of this sets up the coming character interaction between Raoul and Christine very nicely, as their actual relationship will be quite a contrast to the assumptions made about it (as it was in the novel, as well).

 

The ballerinas have come up with some interesting new rumors about the opera ghost; while they reiterate the rumors that he has a naked or flaming skull for a head, they also suggest that he was a singer who died onstage many years ago (a humanizing idea that was explored in the 1991 Weiss book and the 1997 Zach title), and even that he drinks blood (a definitely demonizing idea that I haven't yet seen in any previous versions).

 

Scene 2:

 

Raoul's introductory scene is just adorable. His sudden switch from the formal "Good evening, Miss Daaé," to the two of them jumping into one anothers' arms and squealing like delighted children is precious, and very neatly illustrates the lack of class friction between the two of them when they are in private.

 

A very major change has been made to the love affair between the two characters; specifically, it's been going on for some time, as it is heavily implied that they were not only childhood friends but teenage sweethearts as well, staying together until Raoul's departure for his military tour of duty four years ago. This is the source of most of the tension in their relationship, in fact; having already been in love, Raoul's decision to obey his family's wishes and head off into the Navy was devastating to Christine, who had begged him to remain with her instead, and the death of her father a scant few months after his departure gave the situation the additional effect of Raoul having abandoned her in her time of need. Now, four years later, they are still obviously very much in love, but there are a lot of hurt feelings all around, and as a result they are patching up a broken relationship instead of forging a new one, a very different take on the original novel's dynamic. While it isn't as symbolic of the purity of childhood love and all that, it is more realistic and relatable, and it has the end effect of making us like and root for the characters all the more.

 

Raoul owns up to what he now admits was a mistake - leaving to enter the Navy - but tells Christine that he has matured into an adult and can now stand up to familial pressure, which is why he has returned to re-woo her; his brief explanation of the many places he has served all over Europe and his duties as "senior assistant" (that's a new military title, cough) to the fictional Admiral Gautier, along with this confession and new determination, make him a much more worldly character than Leroux's untried youth. Again, the choice detracts from the original piece's symbolism, but it creates a solid and interesting character and proceeds to use him for interesting storytelling, so why would we want to argue with it?

 

Christine is also a much stronger character, letting Raoul know that her hurt feelings aren't going to just evaporate overnight and becoming progressively more pissy with him when he is obviously confused and disbelieving of her claim to hear the voice of an angel. Christine will frequently show a great deal more strength in this play - or, I should say, not more strength but different strength, as the original character's strength of spirit and ability to endure are presented in the form of a fearless woman who relies only on herself.

 

Ah... there are many lines from the novel that never get old, and it's lovely to see Kuiper use the best of them in his script. "Your soul is a beautiful thing. No emperor received so fair a gift. The angels wept tonight..." Other dramatizers should take note; Leroux's novel hasn't endured so well because he was a hack who couldn't write moving dialogue.

 

Things start getting weird here, however. Erik has apparently "often told" Christine that he isn't an angel, but she continues to insist that he is. This neatly removes his great deception, not to mention most of the overtones of insinuation and impure intentions on his part, making him an infinitely more sympathetic character; it also decontaminates the "angel" label that I'm always ranting about, making it a valid choice to use to refer to the character (though, of course, it's used much less in this version than in most of the versions that shouldn't use it at all). It makes Christine a little bit more odd, though; rather than being an innocent, devout character who is fooled by the Phantom's otherworldly ruse, she's a perfectly knowing adult who simply prefers to refer to her mysterious benefactor as supernatural (subtextually, I suspect, because she can then connect him to her dead father and make him a sort of comforting real-life imaginary friend).

 

Kuiper isn't done messing with the dynamics yet, moving off on a monologue wherein Erik tells Christine about his unhappy life to date and generally sounds pretty hangdog. His almost supplicant conversation, well before any romantic tension between them of any kind, shifts him from his original role as a figure of authority and power over her to one as an equal, a friend who acts as confidant and confides his own fears and details in return. It's clear, as Kuiper hinted at the beginning, that Christine is going to have all the power here - rather than a shifting balance as in the original book, there are practically no moments at all in this play where she is not in control, as opposed to the original Christine, who had the ultimate choice but who had to overcome a great number of overpowering obstacles and people in order to assert herself and make it.

 

Since we're busy flipping everything on its head right now, it's not as much of a surprise as it might be that Christine is the one demanding that the Phantom take her through the mirror and show her his world, while Erik is noticeably reluctant to do so. He very obviously doesn't want to cross that line with her - in sharp contrast to the original Erik, he actually prefers their mentor/student relationship the way it is, and doesn't try to initiate any closer contact, even only letting her see him behind the mirror once she begs him to. His attempts to dissuade her from "entering his world" are very interesting, both because they highlight, again, that this version of the character is not taking advantage of Christine in any dimension, and because they show us that it's he who is afraid to touch the "forbidden" world, while Christine is only too willing. It's a direct inversion of the original novel's power balance, in which Erik was representing the forbidden and Christine was the one who needed to be pushed to interact with it.

 

Scene 3:

 

No, seriously, she is demanding and pushy here. She also demands he tell her his backstory, which he does despite once again obvious reluctance. Interestingly enough, he claims to be eastern European, conjuring up images of Slavic cultures and providing a plausible explanation for some of the abuse he endured during childhood in areas of Europe that were less "civilized" (by Parisian reckoning, anyway, so your mileage may vary). He mentions his stint in the carnival briefly, as well as his time at the sultana's court, and explains that after seeing his torture devices in action there he suffered an abrupt attack of conscience and decided to give up the life of evil he had led, etc. Again, it has very much the vibe of a friend unburdening himself to a trusted confidant, not a mentor or masterful figure talking to his protégé/love interest.

 

I'm not sure how Erik is going to be caught unawares by Christine unmasking him, though, since she's completely and obviously fearless and she won't stop asking him about it despite his continual attempts to redirect her.

 

Scene 4:

 

An interesting idea is introduced here, that Erik is literally able to "hear" a person's soul through their voice. He dislikes Carlotta not because she is a poor singer but because she's a generally unpleasant person; similarly, he likes Christine because he can hear her potential and strength of character when she sings, even though she didn't sound like much when she first arrived at the opera house ("a rusty old hinge," as little Meg Giry would have said). This is an interesting idea, though a bit more out of place with this very human Phantom than it might have been in some other versions, but it isn't as well-developed as I would have liked to see.

 

The "third time's the charm" approach to unmasking is obnoxious, where Christine makes several grabs for it and misses each time, somehow keeping the extremely sensitive underground-dwelling Phantom from noticing; I've seen it before in other versions, and it rarely works well, coming off as a tired attempt at comedy in most cases. The Phantom's deformity (as described... again, ignore the promo art) is satisfyingly accurate in regards to Leroux's novel, however, being a skull-like full-face-and-head deformity that imparts quite a shock to even this gutsy Christine. Erik thunders out some more powerful lines from the novel ("Feast your eyes! Glut your soul!", etc.), which are timed well and somewhat jarring considering how inoffensive he has seemed prior to this scene. Unsurprisingly, this Wonder Woman version of Christine recovers at the speed of light and attempts to reassure him that the face doesn't bother her at all, but nobody is buying it.

 

A very powerful idea here, communicated by a sobbing Erik as he tries to keep his face hidden after his initial anger, is that the major reason he didn't want Christine to come down to his world was because it would push their relationship into becoming a real one, rather than a mentoring one; he knew that if she were here as a person and not a student he would fall in love with her, as he has tragically just done. He sounds believably wretched about the whole ordeal, especially as he realizes that he has done what he didn't want to do, and now loves something he knows he cannot have. In particular, the line, "I will not ask if you love me; a creature such as I is unworthy of love. This is enough," spoken when Christine tries to reassure him, informs us that he is perfectly well aware of the hopelessness of his wants.

 

I was a little vexed that Erik seems to have come pre-redeemed for our convenience; there doesn't seem to be much for him to grow into at all, unless this is going to turn out to be a story about learning to love yourself (oh, goodie, those are my favorite). He doesn't even follow the original Erik's pattern of declaring that now she will have to stay forever because she would not return to such a monster on her own; he just gets right down to the business of moping because she won't return, with no effort made to restrain her. He's not a villain in any sense; Kuiper will try to solve this problem and inject some violent conflict later in the play via sudden personality shifts, but it's less interesting and deep because the idea isn't carried through, reminding me a lot of the largely innocent Phantom from the 1990 Richardson/Dance miniseries (even HE was worse, though. This guy doesn't even play practical jokes - his worst crime is sending out notes to ask for his salary).

 

Scene 5:

 

It's a bit confusing for me why one of the managers (Richard) is directing the ballerinas instead of, you know, the director. Kuiper has him and Moncharmin introduce themselves as the "artistic manager" and "business manager" of the opera house, so I suspect he's just made Richard into what we would basically refer to as the artistic director, rather than letting them be partners in a business venture as they were originally. Their parts are far from central, so it slides by without too much annoyance.

 

I like Madame Giry's stern, scoldy, protective demeanor. She's both believable and sympathetic, especially since she ably fills the only mother role in the story and her interactions with Meg and Buquet help flesh all three of them out into more developed characters. Meg's and Buquet's relationship, as I've said before, is adorable (I will probably say it again).

 

Raoul's and Christine's relationship, on the other hand, is considerably more complicated due to all their new baggage in this version. This doesn't detract from my ability to enjoy it; on the contrary, it's a very believable approach, and the sweetness of watching them go on little dates and tell one another about their lives, "rediscovering" each other as Christine says, is emotionally compelling. Their banter is also entertaining and believable. ("What it must be like to perform here... How brave you are!" "Raoul, you are in the military.")

 

In fact, their relationship is so convincing that Christine's sudden decision that it isn't working for her comes a bit out of left field, for both Raoul and for the audience; as a result, the play engagement (preserved from Leroux's novel for the first time) seems more like her humoring him than the two of them living out their fantasy together. Despite all this ambiguity, however, their kisses and mini love scene are also genuine-seeming, at least until SOMEONE drops a sandbag behind them and startles them out of their liplock. It's a little bit surprising considering this gentler version of Erik and how unsuited he seems to be to murder these days, but then again I suppose he wasn't actually trying to hit anybody, just throwing a bit of a tantrum.

 

Scene 6:

 

Christine is kind of harsh to both men here, telling an obviously suffering Erik all about her relationship with Raoul and then carelessly dismissing said vicomte as nothing but a game. Considering her previous character revelations and behavior, it seems more like she's trying to convince herself, however, not dismiss either one of them out of hand.

 

I'm really not sure what I think about this little song that happens on page 32, quoted below:

 

"Our voices pierce the nighttime

And serenade the stars

Their tears rain down from Heaven

And mingle then with ours.

Both fish and beast will hear us

The birds will join our song

They think they know the measure

But, darling, they are wrong.

For who can count the angels

That fill the skies above?

None can sum what grows each day

No limit to our love."

 

Leaving aside the depressingly inconsistent punctuation (yes, yes, it's in verse form, but if you're going to punctuate some as sentences, you should do that for all of them, unless you are e.e. cummings), I just don't know. It's not... BAD bad bad, you know? Yet it is also deeply uninspiring, and without a tune (since this is just a script and this is the only musical thing that happens in the show) there's not much for me to go on here. In the end, it doesn't add much to the show - it'll be revisited later, but it isn't inspiring or emotive enough to be a good callback, and it doesn't have enough lyrical excellence to stand on its own. The fact that Christine explains that it's a lullaby that her father used to sing with her, however, brings to mind the Provençal lullaby from the 1943 Lubin/Rains film.

 

Erik is a clever bastard here, intentionally pointing out to Christine the hefty class divide between herself and Raoul, and suggesting that the vicomte might force her to stop singing if she married him; since this is one of Christine's greatest fears in this version (her self-possession and dedication to her career are reminiscent of Maria's in the 1983 movie or Christine's in the 1943 film), it's an effective strategy, though he looks a bit underhanded doing so since we are fully aware of his ulterior motives. Were he not such a nice guy, I probably wouldn't even have noticed; such manipulation is small potatoes compared to the scale of the original's.

 

Scene 7:

 

While, since she's such a roaring pain in the ass, it's pretty fun to watch the managers be all, "We don't need your garbage star power draw!" at Carlotta, it kind of teeters on the edge of believability. I mean, yeah, Christine is great, but Carlotta is a Big Name and Big Names put butts in seats. Besides, wouldn't it make the most business sense to have a Big Name AND an Up-and-Comer? These guys are businessmen! Luckily, this is eventually what they decide to do, though probably at least in part because of cussedness on their parts and a desire not to do what the opera ghost is telling them to.

 

I want to kiss Kuiper when Carlotta gets all up in Raoul's face about how familiar he is with Christine, using her first name and all. I probably shouldn't be so excited; it's just that, after all the disastrous period failure recently, I'm seized with the desire to bake cakes for everyone who DOES acknowledge that there are different social conventions in different centuries.

 

Scene 8:

 

Christine's monologue about her love for Raoul, presented as a forlorn prayer to her deceased father, is extremely touching, to the point of wringing a tear from even my hard, raisin-like little eyes. The idea of childhood innocence is presented after all, despite the new dimensions of their relationship, in her memories of their carefree childhood and discovery of love. Of course, it's kind of brutal for the listening Erik, but since he's eavesdropping he has no one to blame but himself.

 

In an interesting move that is in keeping with his less demanding role in this version, Erik's ring symbolizes only Christine's promise to remain at the opera house and sing so that he can hear her, not any romantic or possessive stricture of any kind; he simply states that he will die if he can no longer hear her sing, and leaves it at that. It caused me to wonder if he was trying to deny the obvious shift he'd made earlier to love - attempting to return to their purely professional relationship - or if he was just sticking with the "this is enough" approach, trying to content himself with whatever small amount of nearness to her he could come up with. Either choice is valid, though things are about to get kind of weird.

 

Yes, here in the graveyard we're about to get a straight-up confrontation between Raoul (also eavesdropping... you men are cads) and Erik once Christine leaves. It's obviously more reminiscent of Lloyd Webber's version of the graveyard scene, as opposed to Raoul's harrowing but ultimately very brief and uninvolved contact with the Phantom in Leroux's novel. Erik, in usual Ranting Phantom form, claims that Raoul "had his shot" with Christine and lost out due to his choice to leave, and orders him to go away and stop bothering her to, in essence, let the Phantom have his turn. While this discounts Christine's feelings completely and might normally cause me to start frothing about trophies and objectification and entitlement, in this case I think that Christine's character is so strong in this version that this is just Erik talking, not the playwright.

 

Scene 9:

 

In a little one-on-one time with Meg, Christine tells her about her situation and acknowledges that while she might be feeling pity or obligation for Erik instead of love, the emotions are too tangled up and she can't really tell. This is a more mature approach than I'm used to seeing, and I really appreciate that this Christine has more emotional complexity than a brick.

 

Scene 10:

 

We have arrived at Apollo's Lyre (not specifically mentioned, but Kuiper is writing this for productions that may not have a stratospheric budget), where Raoul's apology (again!) for his past choices and heartfelt proposal to turn their play engagement into a real one are lovely, as is Christine's realization that she truly loves him in return. After so many cheating-jerk-style Christines in recent reviews, it's very refreshing to see one who is habitually honest with both herself and with both of her suitors, even if it's often painful for those involved.

 

And speaking of refreshing, Christine admits her love to Raoul but tells him to back off, reminding him that he's not the boss of her and informing him that she will leave the Opera for a while, but on her own terms, on her own, without anyone with her, in order to figure out her own feelings without either of them trying to influence her. I cheered a little in my cubicle.

 

Erik, of course, is lurking about the rooftop to overhear this; since his commandments for Christine and his knowledge of her relationship with Raoul are very different in this version, it isn't her confession of love that unhinges him but her admission that she plans to leave the Opera, the one thing he begged her not to do. He claims to himself in dramatic soliloquy once they've departed that he can feel himself beginning to go mad from the prospect of losing her, which is Kuiper's set-up for him to start misbehaving in typical Phantom fashion. It doesn't quite work for me, which is a shame as this play does so many interesting things that I like, but Erik's been set up as too much of a nice, stable guy for this to really seem believable, especially since Christine was kind of obviously implying she would leave the Opera for a bit and then come back, negating the impact of her "betrayal" somewhat.

 

Scene 11:

 

We're not done with the angry fun yet; now Carlotta has arrived in Christine's dressing room to tell her off, a la the Bischoff and Vehlow novels (or, in more strenuous form, the 1989 Thomas/Gillis film). Since this incarnation of Carlotta is a thoroughly unpleasant character, it's nice to see Christine kick her ass a little bit before the scene ends (as if there was any doubt with this Christine!).

 

Scene 12:

 

Aaaand the chandelier is down. Shock! Panic! As in Lloyd Webber's version, this is done as a device to ruin Carlotta's performance, not specifically to remove Madame Giry's replacement or chastise the managers (there is no hint of displacement for the venerable Giry in this show). Again, this seems oddly out of place for a Phantom who has heretofore been completely harmless.

 

Act 2:

 

Scene 1:

 

Kuiper lets us know that he is aware of a further level of social stratification when he points out that Buquet, as a lowly scene-shifter, is not invited to the masquerade ball with the performers and the upper crust (of course, since it's a masquerade, he just raids the costume department and shows up anyway to dance with Meg. The pirate costume is a nice touch). Their uncomplicated relationship continues to serve as a counterpoint for Christine's more tempestuous liaisons, particularly when Buquet pops the question here; the same element of class friction is present, with Meg here representing a slightly higher social level than her intended, but they are much less inclined to worry about it than are Raoul and Christine.

 

It's worth noting that Meg is dressed as Juliet for this shindig, presaging the tragedy to come, and that Christine is dressed as an angel, a less-than-subtle reminder of her backstage (and underground) dramas and a foreshadowing to one of the more odd changes Kuiper will be springing near the end of the show. One of the managers arrives dressed as the Opera Ghost, a cheeky little homage that made me smile.

 

Raoul, pwnt once again by Christine when he tries to encourage her too forcefully to leave with him, instead catches up to Erik so they can have another mano a mano argument, giving them two in this play, substantially more than their usual zero. Erik is obviously more off the deep end than usual by now, but his statements to Raoul that he has "pointed out to [Christine] truths... that the darkness in the world comes from each of us," are spot-on for Leroux's theme of the creation of evil, and Raoul's brave, sad pledge to fight that darkness establishes him as a tragic figure associated with the light, who we know will fail before he has even begun. In the end, as always, this choice will end up with nobody but Christine.

 

Scene 2:

 

Desperate for information on the elusive Phantom, Raoul enlists Buquet's expert help. The scene in which he crawls about in the cellars, nervously talking to the Phantom as if he might be right behind him all the while, is suitably creepy and suspenseful, and the inclusion of a skeleton in chains, remnant of the Communard occupation of the unfinished Opera House in 1871, is both atmospheric and historically accurate (two of my favorite things!).

 

Nooooo! It's not surprising that Erik pops out of nowhere and strangles Buquet to death, but it is heart-rending now that Kuiper has done such an excellent job of making him a fleshed-out character with real relationships and goals. His death has a much greater impact on the audience because of his relationship with Meg and his stage time showcasing an engaging personality, and as a result we are moved toward the punishment of his murderer. It's a cunning move on Kuiper's part; we really needed a truly heinous act to push the Phantom into villain territory after his gentler beginnings, and the murder of Buquet serves admirably.

 

Scene 3:

 

Actually seeing Buquet's corpse hung onstage is much more emotionally brutal (as opposed to simply terrifying, as when the device was used in Lloyd Webber's musical) because of his status as a real character about whom the audience cares.

 

Poor little Meg is, of course, devastated, but like her friend Christine she is a plucky lady who will not be pushed around, and she takes on the (as usual absent) Persian's role as guide to help Raoul find his way through the catacombs (interestingly enough, this role was assigned to her mother in Lloyd Webber's musical; I think the Giry's may be the most oft-fixated-upon of side characters because they come with a pre-fab relationship, mother and daughter, rather than being stand-alone people). She also serves as a contrast to Raoul in motive; he just wants to rescue Christine, whom he fears for after her disappearance, while Meg wants to avenge her lover and see the menace to the opera house stopped once and for all.

 

Scene 4:

 

I particularly enjoyed the stage directions here, which encourage the performers to use the audience as the catacombs; the darkness of the house as opposed to the stage is a great choice to communicate an underground feel, while the audience's inability to see what is going on at all times imparts a real sense of disorientation and suspense. Also, it's easy for a low-budget production.

 

The ratcatcher interlude from Leroux's novel is played out almost verbatim here, which is an interesting choice as I haven't seen it included in any stage versions before this one; the reason for that may be that it's a little bit difficult to pull off in a stage setting, as it comes disconnected from the plot and it is impractical to try to stage a sea of rats running along the floor. I'm sure it could be done effectively, but as written it didn't quite work for me.

 

Scene 5:

 

Off in the Phantom's lair, Kuiper is introducing some interesting duality when Erik tells Christine, "I am no Angel of Music... I am the Demon. You are the true Angel." Not only is the idea of Christine as an angel an acceptable alternative to her original status as a Christ figure (though I have to admit that the imagery and concept of "angel" in this play tend a little too close to modern interpretations for my comfort), but Kuiper plays effectively with the idea that Christine and Erik are two sides of the same coin, fundamentally the same instead of fundamentally different, a serious and interesting shift from the original dynamic. 

 

The underlying metaphor of music being equal to one's soul (introduced first in Erik's ability to "hear" the souls of others) is a great one, touching on the ideas of every soul encompassing both light and dark, beauty and ugliness, love and hate, etc. - with the obvious exceptions of Christine, in whom Erik hears only light and beauty, and himself, who he is unable to conceive of except negatively. It's a powerful idea, but unfortunately rather clumsily presented in the last scenes of the play, and as a result I was disappointed that it wasn't explored more thoroughly or used more effectively.

 

Scene 6:

 

Hey, it's the siren! Kind of. Meg and Raoul don't have a boat to get into, so Erik just grabs them both off the shore from behind, in the usual siren fashion. Interestingly enough, this makes it appear that they are taking Philippe's place from the original novel, but they both end up alive. Philippe himself is noticeably absent from the entire play (as a side note: if authors prefer the Girys because they have a relationship to play on, why don't they use Philippe and La Sorelli more?), as is the Persian; Kuiper has distilled their roles and given them to other characters, probably with the goal of trimming down Leroux's cast list in mind.

 

Scene 7:

 

I couldn't help sniggering at the stage directions here, because they are beyond ridiculous; Erik reveals that he has Meg and Raoul trapped in a cage set inside his organ, using the pipes as bars. Oh, it's creative, I can give it that, but it's also totally ridiculous - why on earth is Erik putting people INSIDE the organ? Why are his pipes spaced so far apart that you can see between them? How the hell is he anchoring them to be effective bars while still also being effective pipes? - and heinously bad for the instrument, something I have difficulty envisioning the musically-minded Erik allowing.

 

His choice offered to Christine, to choose either the requiem or the wedding march, is of course straight out of Leroux's novel; there are no grasshoppers or scorpions here, but then again this Erik is still a more sympathetic guy (poor Buquet notwithstanding) and there's no terrifying plot to blow up the opera house afoot. 

 

In a good old-fashioned angry twist, Meg tries to jump the Phantom with a knife, bent on revenge for her dead boyfriend, and when she fails Raoul also tries to make a manful tussle of it. Christine trumps them both by getting hold of Meg's knife and threatening to kill herself unless everyone stops roughhousing. Interestingly, despite the fact that she can make pretty much any choice she wishes at this point, Christine chooses to remain with the Phantom in order to stop the violence and prevent the "dark music" from further corrupting Meg and Raoul - that is, she doesn't want them tainted by further attempts at violent revenge, and in giving up her freedom to save them is fulfilling her role as the "light" half of the music (twin, of course, to Erik's dark).

 

Interestingly, instead of kissing Erik, she instead simply tells him, "I love you," which is of course more than enough to get his famous line about having tasted all the happiness the world can offer out of him. That switch is curious, and I think has to do with changing cultural perceptions again; where it was easier for Christine to screw up her courage and kiss Erik's forehead in the original, letting him know that he was not alone without forcing her to say anything that she was afraid to admit even to herself, it is easier in this modern version to simply say the words rather than initiate physical contact with someone so abhorrent. It's a function, too, of how much more worldly and vibrant a character this Christine is, as opposed to the symbolic savior character of the original novel.

 

Erik immediately knows that he is going to die, though it takes Christine a few minutes to figure it out while he staggers about. He recognizes that his world is at an end - he literally cannot live in the darkness anymore now that he has been, in essence, redeemed by the light (Christine) - and reiterates that he knew everything would crumble when he first allowed her into his realm from her own. Erik has, from the beginning, been not the master of his own kingdom but a man in a desperate balancing act as he tried to maintain that illusion for himself, and, as he always knew she would, Christine has shattered that illusion forever. As wistful as he sounds when he talks about the days of yore when he was free to live in his own little world, Kuiper lets us know that Erik's emergence from the darkness at this final point in his life is his final redemption and growth, as well.

 

After giving Christine his score for Don Juan Triumphant - a bit of a surprise, that, but I suppose this version of Erik isn't as tight-fisted as the original, who wanted his symbolic life work to end with his own life - and kissing her, he calls her the Angel of Music once more time, reinforcing the idea, before doing penance for the evil he's done and intentionally throwing himself into the lake to die as they leave. The choice of drowning (or, possibly, simply going into the lake while he is already dying) is reminiscent of the transcendent final scene in the 1999 Argento/Sands film, which also featured a descent into the water at the final moment of the Phantom's life.

 

The final lines of the play, spoken by a dying Erik, are reminiscent of those at the end of Lloyd Webber's musical: "The music ends... the song is sung... and silence reigns once more." While both dramas use the idea of the music ending as a metaphor for the Phantom's life ending, Kuiper's use of a similar phrase is more compelling because of the extended metaphor concerning music and souls introduced earlier; silence falling is equivalent to death, true, but also to the cessation of the constant battle between light and dark within him.

 

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this play. I was expecting all kinds of things - bad comedy, maybe, or misunderstood metaphors, or poor writing - and instead I got this.

 

Who, me? Jaded? Nah.

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