Even as we prepare for our last weekend of Carousel, in which we struggle with whether or not a violent man can redeem himself, we are reminded how easily perpetrators of domestic violence continue to be forgiven today.
“I’m actually done in my case,’ Rice said. ‘Really, I just have to call the state of New Jersey once a month. After May 19, I’m done. It will be a full year. It will be like a refreshing start. That’s the only little burden that I have. I have until May 19. I don’t have anything to do but call and confirm some things with them that I’m not getting into any trouble. It’s a real basic phone call and they give me another date for the next month.”
“What’s The Use of Wond’rin’?” is the most controversial song in Carousel because in it, Julie justifies her decision to stay with Billy despite his abuse and her common-sense knowledge that things will end badly. Julie, like many victims of domestic violence, blames herself and feels resigned to her situation, although her friends encourage her to leave. Songs like this are ripe for subverting, as Amanda Palmer and St. Vincent do here.
The song’s attitude towards Julie’s role as a wife to a man who makes dangerous and morally suspect decisions has echoes of a number of other songs, dealing with different specifics but many of the same societal issues and emotional difficulties that keep people in unhealthy relationships all the time. As in “What’s The Use of Wond’rin’?,” victims blame themselves, and in “Delilah” a frustrated friend does not maintain the supportive approach we saw in “Taking You Home,” but falls into the problematic attitude of victim-blaming as well.
“What would have happened if indeed Billy and Julie would have had that son he sings about in the soliloquy? How would that have made things different? So much of the piece is what I call counterfactual; we may have seen a pair of happy lovers had Billy made different choices. Things like that always seemed very interesting to me.”
—Jason Loewith, director of Carousel and Artistic Director of Olney Theatre Center
The counterfactual thinking that Carousel explores on an interpersonal level can also, on a larger scale, provide an opening for creative thinking in political science and history. However, there are plenty of historians who would rather keep imagination out of things entirely. Listen to Professor Tim Burke on the subject.
Changing the gender of characters in a period piece doesn’t always have to undermine historical accuracy. Eileen Ward, playing Dr. Seldon in our Carousel, is drawing on this information about a female physician in New England, nearly 70 years before our Carousel is set.
“Elizabeth Mott located herself at the matrix of traditional women’s healing and modern alternative medicine; her abilities, she argued, were the result of both a natural “gift” and careful study. For most of her career, Mrs. Mott limited her practice to women and children, arguing that “ladies ought to have their own sex attend to them” because they could talk more openly with female doctors without violating standards of morality and modesty. Describing herself as a “female professor of medical knowledge,” she hoped to simplify medicine so that every patient could become “her own physician.”