There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
— Maya Angelou
I have seen — better, experienced — the OSF's 2017 world premiere musical "UniSon" four times. I would be a better person if I saw it every day.
Production director Robert O'Hara writes that "UNIVERSES are all poets. Adventurous and fire-breathing artists." O'Hara hopes that we who experience "UniSon" will "sense a reverence from one creative mind to another."
O'Hara's words and wishes have been wonderfully realized.
UniSon induces in me a unique awakening.
This miraculous production challenges me to create, to speak, to use my voice to "confront the dark parts of myself, and to work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness." To "wrestle with my demons, causing my angels to sing.” (Slightly adapted from the words of August Wilson.)
The story of "UniSon" is imaginatively told. "The Poet dies, leaving all his prized possessions to his Apprentice. Among those possessions is a trunk that the Poet states must be destroyed, along with its contents ... The Apprentice opens the trunk, accidentally pulling the Poet from the afterlife. The Apprentice's act unleashes the Poet's 'terrors' (seven of them), characters that symbolize events and people from the Poet's past. Now, the Poet must reconcile his life before he can conclude his death." (From the playbill "Windows Into" notes.)
UniSon's powerful intersection of music, word, illuminating set, and movement conspires to make its impact go deep — to a spiritual place. To the heart.
There's a unique blend of humor, pathos, archetypal meanings, poetic suggestion, and biblical imperatives. All seamlessly woven together through sight, sound, and gesture.
The title, "UniSon," offers intriguing ambiguities: uniting the son's (the Poet's) inner perplexities about his father(s); suggesting the collaboration between UNIverses and August WilSON; creating a "coincidence of pitch of sounds, of notes," a harmonic agreement.
The production offers layers of human experience in multiple modes — visual, auditory, visceral, existential, spiritual, musical. These modes fashion a unified portrait of an artist's complex life.
In every performance, audience members are deeply moved — at the end, to tears and to spontaneous, standing applause.
We individually and collectively witness another person's life (the Poet's), and its joys and sorrows. We journey with the Poet to his life's completion and integration.
We sense our calling to fill the blank pages that the Apprentice holds with wandering words that are waiting to be written.
We realize that there are mountains to be moved — our inner possibilities and resistances.
We sense that our lives truly matter.
That living with compassion and forgiveness towards ourselves and others is central.
That we need to be brave.
The Apprentice's pen, "UniSon" reminds us, is in our hand.
— Daniel Murphy fosters human flourishing through positive life coaching in Ashland and beyond.