Ron Raines in Follies: “I would give—what have I got?—my soul’s of little value, but I’d give it to be twenty-five again.”
What about twenty-four? Hey, that’s how old I turned the night I caught Follies. It was a smash of a party, what will all those lines like, “The only thing I want from you is a divorce;” or, “There’s no one in my life; there’s nothing;” and, “I want another chance.” Happy Birthday, indeed!
But seriously—all that talk of age and regret could trick you into thinking Follies a deadly graveyard party for the geriatrics. That’s hardly the case: The show still registers as a beautifully layered “sorrowful précis” (to quote one song), even if you’re in the under-forty set.
What Follies so effectively theatricalizes is the feeling you get watching your parents’ home movies, or archival footage of cities you know: The house onscreen is (mostly) the same, those landmarks still look familiar, but it feels impossible—just impossible—that younger versions of people you know touched those same cabinets, floorboards, bricks or phone booths that you yourself have touched. The past is a phantom never quite to be believed, some sort of made-up, filmic lie.
But the conceit of Follies makes the past seems true. Follies presents one space, the soon-to-be-destroyed Weismann Theatre, and places young and old versions of the same characters side by side, past and present speech and song weaving in and out of focus. Even if the characters fall into stereotype (the young’uns are fun and hopeful; the old’uns are wry and depressed) they still make their point: They lived before, and they live now. Seems obvious, but the show makes that idea visually profound.
Will I look back at fifty and ruefully pine backwards, Sondheim-style? Here’s hoping not, but if I do, I’ve got Follies to keep me company.