Celestial Excursions

Program note

The fear is that we won’t go gently or abruptly into that good night. We will hang on in the endurance trials of old age, forever rehearsing in the early morning twilight, fortified by a few hours of faulty sleep, the plot or why there is no plot, the explanations, the why, the lists, the old grievances, never to be settled now, the stories never told or passed on, the interruptions, the terrifying proportions, everything larger than it is known to be, distorted in the mirror, and again and again.

Old people are interesting because they have no future. The future is what to eat for breakfast or where did I leave my shoes. Everything else is in the past. Is this understandable? Reading Faulkner at seventy-two made me wonder what I could possibly have understood when I read the same story at twenty. The reason is, it takes one to know one.

So, sometimes, old people break the rules. Especially the rules of conversation and being together. They break the rules, because, for one reason or another (illness, anger, damage, enough of that, whatever), the rules no longer apply for them. They are alone. Sometimes they are sad. Sometimes they are desperate. Mostly they are brave. Mostly they have given up on the promises of religion — life after death, immortality, etc. Mostly they are concerned with dignity. Living with dignity. And dying with dignity.

But they are still obliged, as human beings, to make sounds. They are obliged to speak, whether or not anyone is listening.

Act I (“Is It Light, Yet?”) is a series of personal recitals, separated by short bulletins of what some of the rest of the people on earth are up to.

Act II (“Asylum”) is a dialog between four guests at Assisted Living and the counselor, who is trying to explain to them that the burden they feel, which might seem to be explained in words, is not to be relieved by finding the word of escape, and in fact will never be relieved. Occasionally the guests break into song to relieve the tension.

Act III (“The River Deepens”) is a series of reminiscences in a mixture of past and present tense. The importance of the reminiscence is its persistence.


— Robert Ashley