Greenwich Village, 1958.
Mrs. T. cried today. Not my Nell-mom, who’s not exactly a Mrs. anyway, even if her name does start with a T. I mean Sophie’s mom, Mrs. Tanya.
She brought Sophie and me to a show called West Side Story. It was a musical, which I didn’t think I’d like very much because why are people singing in the middle of a play, you know? I mean I’d never seen anything like it.
But this was a really good play, even though it had some weird ballet type stuff in the middle of the street, and the ballets were part of the street fights, but in the end I looked at Sophie and she looked at me. And we agreed it was cool.
The whole play was about a couple named Tony and Maria, and Tony was regular Italian like my Gary Daddy-o, and Maria was from Puerto Rico, and her brother and all his friends didn’t like Tony’s friends because they were from a rival gang. Tony’s gang was the Jets and Maria’s brother’s gang was the Sharks. And both these gangs were at war with each other.
After a while I could see it was kinda sorta based on Romeo and Juliet, which Sky made us read one time, out loud, only they transported the play to our times. So if you read that play you know the ending was sad. And this one was too, but Maria sang the most beautiful, beautiful song to Tony at the end.
And that was what made Mrs. Tanya cry. It was really strange to see her cry because she’s a comedy writer, so mostly she’s always cracking jokes and smiling and looking for things to laugh about. But here she was bawling like a baby, and the truth is, Sophie and I were bawling too.
Because Tony and Maria really loved each other and it didn’t matter to either of them if she was brought up differently than he was or if he didn’t have the same kind of family she did. “It’s not us,” she said, “it’s everything around us.”
Which made me think you could say that about a lot of things, you know? So much hate pushing down on us until we give in to the pressure and start hating too. And then the love is crushed under the weight of all that hate.
Tony and Maria tried so hard not to let it crush them. But the hate was too strong. I thought about it all day and that’s what I decided. Mrs. T said Maria triumphed in the end because she didn’t give in to hate, even though her darling was gone.
I see what she means, but in the end, Maria still lost the man she loved. So if that’s not losing everything, what is?
I don’t know. I guess even though West Side Story was set on the upper West side, those gangs are all around us in this city. I wish they all could see this play.