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Channel Esther: Invisible Threads from Stage to Seats

Esther Cohen
January 3, 2016
by Esther Cohen Web_Invisible_ThreadLAST WEEK I took Khanysile Ndaba, my daughter-in-law’s 15-year-old niece from Capetown, to the theater to a production of a new musical in previews (and therefore, with reasonably priced tickets), Invisible Thread, which is based on a true story and stars the author, Griffin Matthews. The year is 2005. Griffin is a New York actor, young and tired of rejection after rejection. He is a member of a large black church that he loves, but which asks him not to sing in the choir once they learn that he’s gay. Griffin decides to look for meaning by leaving for Uganda, where he will teach. His partner, Matt Gould, a Jewish musical composer with Broadway ambitions, earns his living playing music with 3-year-olds. He is encouraging and supportive to Griffin and tells him to go. (Neither knows, of course, that ten years later this story will become a successful musical, staring Griffin.) Most of the play takes place in Uganda and New York. Readers of Jewish Currents could probably predict what happens: the transformation that can happen when we leave what we know, become as open as we can, move from familiar to unfamiliar, and all that’s left are the essentials of who we are. Griffin, in the way that people do in novels, finds in Uganda the part of himself that he lost. He is no longer an auditioning actor, tied to the endless desire to win the part, but a person who can help others by telling them what he knows. He works with street children, teaching them, creating a school. And of course, giving is always far more satisfying. These children become his life, and their relationship persists, until today. When he returns to his supportive lover, his musical composer partner, together they write this story, the story of the Invisible Thread that connects them all — the children in Uganda, and these two men in New York. Real life and theater blur in this lively and positive musical. The whole room left a little happier. Esther Cohen, arts consultant for Jewish Currents, is the author of several books and teaches creative writing to working people.