Editor’s Note: Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be

Sep 28, 2023 at 9:13 pm
Brennen Amonett (Hamlet) rehearses on Wednesday, March 1, at Kentucky Shakespeare's rehearsal studio in Old Louisville.
Brennen Amonett (Hamlet) rehearses on Wednesday, March 1, at Kentucky Shakespeare's rehearsal studio in Old Louisville. Photo by Carolyn Brown

It’s our last issue of September, and we are celebrating theater. Louisville has a long and storied theater history over all the generations of our city, which was founded in 1776. Good luck counting all the currently running theater groups, because just as you think you’ve got an accurate count, one might close and three more will rise to take its place. We’re a town that loves a bit of drama and lots of razzle-dazzle. 

When sitting to write this week’s editor’s note, the only thing on my mind was, “Ouch, my tooth hurts,” and I started quoting Hamlet as I mused over whether I could transcend this pain while maintaining my sanity. As Shakespeare wrote it: 

To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to: ‘tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:

The shock of surprise dental work and a shockingly painful recovery just before my first real vacation in years is disappointing, but there’s always something in the quest to be human and to live a good human life. Even in pain, I am grateful for the ability to use drama to my advantage as I whine, moan, and groan around the house, terrifying my child that I might actually keel over from a toothache at any moment. 

It is the drama that illuminates our condition as creatures here on earth. 

Hamlet certainly was pondering bigger questions than a tooth. Still, a toothache is definitely one of the “natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” and so it fits that pain puts us in touch with one of the most famous monologues in history, and adds a bit of comedy to my writing this note that’s really about nothing specific this week. 

I guess my tooth drama could be as gripping as any drama about the human condition. In Eugene O’Neill’s play “Beyond the Horizon,” the sons of James Mayo, Robert and Andrew, have a tiff about Robert’s body and health when Andrew comments that Robert’s upcoming trip will do his body some good. 

“All of you seem to keep harping on my health. You were so used to seeing me lying around the house in the old days that you never will get over the notion that I’m a chronic invalid, and have to be looked after like a baby all the time, or wheeled ‘round in a chair like Mrs. Atkins. You don’t realize how I’ve bucked up in the past few years. Why, I bet right now I’m just as healthy as you are—I mean just as sound in wind and limb; and if I was staying on at the farm, I’d prove it to you. You’re suffering from a fixed idea about my delicateness—and so are Pa and Ma. Every time I’ve offered to help, Pa has stared at me as if he thought I was contemplating suicide,” Robert says in agitation to Andrew, who responds hilariously. 

“Nobody claimed the undertaker was taking your measurements. All I was saying was the sea trip would be bound to do anybody good.”

Being human is a sensitive thing, and while we might moan and groan about how we’re feeling, the truth is, we’re all suffering in some way and perhaps triumphing in others and our desires such as a big trip are life-giving… like medicine. Robert needs this trip. Me too, Robert, but Andrew’s response to him gets a laugh from me anytime. We’re often caught up in our own heads and unable to see what someone might be really trying to say to us. 

When Arlie, a protagonist from Marsha Norman’s Louisville-set “Getting Out,” is serving time in a maximum security cell, she’s certainly having a time… something different than a toothache, but she’s aching for sure. She’s talking to one of the guards: 

“No, I don’t have to shut up, neither. You already got me in seg-re-ga-tion, what else you gonna do? I got all day to sleep, while everybody else is out bustin ass in the laundry. [laughs] Hey! I know…you ain’t gotta go do no dorm count, I’ll just tell you and you just sit. Huh? You preciate that? Ease them corns you been moanin about……Yeah …OK. Write this down. [pride mixed with alternating contempt and amusement] Startin down by the john on the backside, we got Mary Alice. Sleeps with her pillow stuffed in her mouth. Says her mom says it’d keep her from grindin her teeth or somethin. She be suckin that pillow like she gettin paid for it. [laughs] Next, it’s Betty the Frog. Got her legs all opened up like some fuckin…… [Makes croaking noises] Then it’s Doris eatin pork rinds. Thinks somebody gonna grab em out of her mouth if she eats em during the day. Doris ain’t dumb. She fat, but she ain’t dumb. Hey! You notice how many girls is fat here? Then it be Rhoda, snorin, Marvene, wheezin and Suzanne, coughin,” she says.

Arlie’s got a few axes to grind about the humans around her. I’m sure my whiny tooth-aching would send her over the edge, but everyone around her in prison is going through something as well, and that’s just life, folks. We might learn a lot about it on the stage, but the truth is, theater just helps us have a little more compassion for the fact that we’re all toothaching, suffering, celebrating, whining, growing up, dying, etc. I’m hoping that you take a moment to tap into that compassion, because it feels so often like we’ve forgotten how to understand each other and to know that we’re all having a “toothache” of some sort.  

Anyway,  hope you get to a theater near you, really soon! I’ll see you again in the October 25 issue.