Monday, November 16, 2009


Patty here…

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a made up word used to describe something fabulous that surprises and delights, or as "Mary Poppins" suggested in the 1964 film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, it is "something to say when you don't know what to say."

Having nothing to say was not at issue this past Friday when I went to a stage performance of “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson Theatre, staring the fabulous Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee.

I remember the hype when the Disney movie came out, but I never saw the film, so I was surprised to read in the program that the story is based on books written by Aussie author P.L. Travers.

According to a 2008 article in the U.K. Telegraph written when the musical began touring:

[P.L.Traver’s] story – which was to continue over the course of eight books – revolves around a household in the Depression, whose inhabitants are also somewhat depressed. True, Mrs Banks is not suicidal, and Mr Banks is not an alcoholic, but the family nevertheless reveals some of the same strains as the author's own childhood. There are four children – Jane, the eldest, then Michael, the twins and a baby on the way – and although there are servants ('Mrs Brill to cook for them, and Ellen to lay the tables'), chaos is always close at hand.

When Mary Poppins arrives, she is 'a shape… in the gathering darkness', picked up by the wind and blown to the front door: 'the watching children heard a terrific bang, and as she landed the whole house shook.' Once inside, she immediately reveals her magical powers – sliding up the banisters towards the nursery and pulling a vast number of accoutrements out of an apparently empty carpet bag – yet this Mary Poppins is far more troubling than Julie Andrews in the Disney film. She is vain and imperious, takes offence at the mildest questioning, doses the children with a mysterious potion and leads them into danger as often as she rescues them. But her authority is absolute: 'you could not look at Mary Poppins and disobey her. There was something strange and extraordinary about her – something that was frightening and at the same time most exciting.'

[Mary Poppins] performs a miraculous healing of a troubled family. Disney had turned Mrs Banks into a suffragette – much to Travers' annoyance – and Mackintosh [the producer of the stage version] has Mr Banks being fired by the bank after a risky investment decision; in both versions Mary Poppins makes the parents realise what truly matters – their children, above all else – and domestic harmony is restored, so that the nanny can depart, leaving mother safely at home with the family and father reinstated at work.

This is where we were meant to feel warm and fuzzy, I suppose. All problems are solved and Mary Poppins ascends into the Heavens like the guardian angel she is, presumably floating in the clouds ready to help the next hopelessly dysfunctional family find truth and happiness.

Only I wasn’t ready for Mary to leave, which—to my surprise—produced some tear duct activity. After the raucous standing ovation had faded and the audience began filing out the door, I tried to analyze why I felt as if I was a baby bird that had been pushed too soon from its nest and unable to fly.

Mary’s role as a teacher/guide through difficult times made me reflect on mentors in my past. I was fortunate to have had a writing mentor who guided, pushed, and prodded me to keep working on my craft, but even after four published novels and a couple of short stories, I still wish I could show her every manuscript I write. In my defense I could say it’s because writers should never stop learning and experimenting and feedback is part of the process. Still, I wonder if insecurity is to blame. Truth is, every student/mentor relationship changes over time. We can’t be students forever. Or can we?

Mentor Monday!


  1. I read the Poppins books with my daughter a few years back. They're really delightful.

    I took her to see Mary Poppins on Broadway two years ago and vowed never to see a Disney show during a school vacation week ever again. When I wasn't distracted by the teenage girls texting each other in front of us, I enjoyed it.

  2. Karen, there were a lot of moms and daughters at the performance. Most of the girls looked to be around ten or so. Some came in costumes. I loved the show, and Mary's flight through the audience was a real crowd pleaser. Gavin Lee was fantastic. Luckily, there was no texting.

  3. Based on that summary, Patty, I think I'd like the book better than the movie.

    But the stage play sounds just grand.

  4. I'll admit the books sound intriging. I like the greater shade of darkness.

  5. You asked, "We can’t be students forever. Or can we?"

    I have to respond: How can we not?

    There's so much to learn, and while there are aspects of our lives where we grow from student to teacher, I think we're always students somewhere.

    I wish I'd seen the play!

  6. I agree, Fran. We should never stop learning. Mary will probably come to Seattle. Or maybe you should come to LA.

  7. James O. Born11/16/2009 12:39 PM

    Good post, Patty. I think it takes an enormous amount of self confidence, bordering on arrogance to think we ever stop being the student. There should always be someone you consider a mentor.


  8. we live and learn, patty.

    the play sounds great, but L.A. is just a wee bit too far away for a night out on the town.


  9. Sound words, James O.

    Sybille, come on over. You can sleep on thr lumpy hide-a-bed in my office.

  10. who needs to sleep in L.A., patty? oh if it wasn't for the flight i'd be there in no time.....


  11. One of my favorites, Patty. :)