For the time being

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I saw PURE Theatre's Cloud Tectonics last night and realized for the first time that it's a play about time. Rather, it's about the mystery of time: that unseen force in the universe, that elusive fourth dimension.

Sharon Graci plays Celestina del Sol, a pregnant women who has somehow stepped out of time's continuum. Clocks stop in her presence. She looks 26, but she's really in her 50s. She's been pregnant for two years by the time she enters the story. She doesn't understand the words for the increments of time: an hour, day, week, year. They mean nothing to her, so she always loses track of time.

Graci's real-life husband Rodney Lee Rogers plays Anibal de la Luna, a lovable working-class lug who shares Celestina's Puerto Rican heritage. He finds her hitchhiking in Los Angeles during the "storm of the century," a detail that has cataclysmic ramifications later in the story. He's lonely and vulnerable. He needs someone to love him, but more importantly, he needs someone to love in return.

My purpose here isn't really to talk about the play. It's fantastic, as was the production and acting, especially the acting. Let's all praise Rogers and Graci. CCP's review can tell you the rest. My purpose is to point out the philosophical underpinnings of Jose Rivera's play. I wouldn't be able to do that unless I'd just happen to be reading — usually in bed, as I drift off to sleep — about St. Augustine.

That is, the early Christian philosopher. And I'm not reading his original works (I'm not that geeky), but an old survey series called The Great Philosophers by the German writer Karl Jaspers. In the section on St. Augustine, Jaspers explains his "metaphysics of inner experience." One of the three sections on "inner experience" is about time and the phenomenon of our existing in time.

As I watched Celestina and Anibal talk about time, as I watched them fall in love and thus feel the mystery of time standing still amid love's first blush, I was struck by Rivera's similarity to Augustine. Maybe there's no connection, but we all must face time, giving Cloud Tectonics depth. As Jaspers writes:

What is the present? What we say about long and short periods of time applies to the past and the future. A hundred years, a year, a day, an hour: they cannot be present. However long they may endure, there is always something of the past, present, and future in them. If we could conceive of a time that could no longer be divided into infinitesimal particles, we should say that [time] alone is the present. But so quickly does this particle of time pass from the future into the past that the present has no duration. It is only a point, a boundary; in being, it is no longer.

If that's the case, what are we? A brief flash of being? Or nothingness? Or both?

And, as Rivera might say, how can we really love?

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