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  • Writer's picturezandaleeindigo

Sunday in the Park with George's Examination of Unrequited Love

For someone studying theatre, I find it fascinating that I managed to get away with not writing about a single play or musical all this time. How fitting that when I choose to, I'm able to marry two of my favorite things together, theatre and love.

In honor of Valentine's Day I had wanted to do a series examining romcoms (and there's still one coming it just won't be timely) but instead a new topic fell into my lap. I realized I've been consuming a lot of media circling unrequited love in the past two months and ever since I've begun to consider my own relationship with the trope.

No one likes unrequited love, I mean not really. It's one of the least satisfying things, no one's truly happy with it. Even so, it's a dynamic still heavily used throughout pop culture, and I think I'm kind of a fan of it. But why? After years of procrastination I decided to watch Stephen Sondheim's 1983 show Sunday in the Park with George, the proshot with Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin at the helm. It was beautiful, I almost found it more stylistically bold than Into the Woods, the music was moving and the mix of humor and drama just the perfect mix. And the titular relationship of the show between obsessive painter George Seurat and his mistress Dot is one of unrequited love.

George is wrapped up in his work, a perfectionist of color giving all his concentration to his painting, making Dot extremely insecure, despite her beauty. She yearns for his affection and attention both of which she has but to a fault, for his true love is his art. A motif echoed throughout the musical is that they don't belong together even though they're supposed to belong together. But the reasons they don't work at all are some of the reasons they love each other most. George admires Dot's beauty and the why she catches the light, and Dot loves the way George sees beauty in the world. But she is not a painting she's a person, and he cannot complete her in the way she needs to be wanted so they'll never truly work.

So often we see unrequited love in conjunction with working artists and I wonder if that's where my affinity for the concept stems from. Because so often in unrequited love, the connection is driven by creativity within both people in the relationship. That's the truth for George and Dot, as well as in Damien Chazelle's La La Land (another favorite of mine). I also noticed that in many unrequited love stories the other person offers something to the other person that they can't get elsewhere. Many times one or both parties in the connection have a foil to their love interest in their life that's essentially "perfect" but regardless, the love for their imperfect person never goes away.

La La Land 2016

After piecing together the usual conventions of the trope, I can more clearly see its appeal. The passion at its core is something that keeps the love exciting. And while that person who's perfect for you on paper might be the most reasonable choice, people who aren't complicated aren't as endearing to us a lot of the times. The things that aren't good for us can be the things that draw us in most times and as Dot says to George, what makes it so right together is usually what makes it wrong.

In my 20 or so years of life, I can honestly say I haven't experienced much love at all but when I have felt anything nearly as strong as it it has almost always been unrequited. I wonder at times why that is, is it because I'm emotionally unavailable? A mixture of my geographic location and my identity as a Black woman? Maybe. But I've recently realized it's because of my temperament in love, a need for excitement in my connections that I have yet to find in most places but always has a home in unrequitedly pining after others. There's something so beautifully tragic about it, I can't help but love it immensely.

I'm going to attach a link to an ever-growing list of my favorite unrequited love stories, if you've never ventured into the unrequited here's somewhere to start:

This is just an adorable picture of Mandy and Bernadette I had to add <3

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18. Feb. 2022

Unrequited love is intoxicating—especially if it involves watching it from afar…..😬

I haven’t seen that play, but Mandy Patinkin is one of our favorite actors, so we will have to check it out!

Thanks for giving us a glimpse behind the “unavailable” facade. 😊

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