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The Light in the Piazza (Or, Strained Connections to Tiger Woods)

David and I recently took advantage of a generous invitation to see the latest production of the Philadelphia Theater Company, The Light in the Piazza. You might be asking yourself: What does this have to do with Tiger Woods? I’ll get to that.

The terrific show — which runs through this Sunday at the Suzanne Roberts Theater; go if you can — is set during a vacation in Florence, Italy, shortly after World War II. There, a middle-aged, Southern woman and her ingenue daughter (Clara) encounter a sexy Italian man who, with almost no effort, wins over Clara. Of course there’s a major obstacle to their union: Mother Margaret thinks that Clara “isn’t right,” and hasn’t been since she was kicked in the head, at age 12, by a pony.

The audience, though, knows differently. By the time we learn that Clara supposedly isn’t all there, the spoken and musical evidence (the show is a kind of operetta, but defies categories) has convinced us otherwise. So the story raises that universal question for parents: When do we let go? Clara is 26!

A parent’s natural protective urges, relinquished with difficulty in any case, would of course be even more powerful in a case like this. And it’s not hard to see how the challenges of raising a child with a (real or imagined) disability would crack open a marriage: Margaret and husband back home are finished, with the physical separation (he’s seen only on the other end of a few phone calls) underscoring for the emotional distance between them.

So Margaret has only Clara who, until now, has never talked back to her. Will she break free? Can Margaret allow herself to accept  the clear evidence that the doctors who predicted life-long arrested development were just wrong? After two hours of romantic comedy meets family therapy, you’ll have your answer.

And you might emerge from the experience reminded that letting go even when you — the parent — are not ready, is the right thing to do. Indeed, I thought back to this little essay after the show. Now I see why the mother let her son go live with his father, even though she could have fought this decision, and won. But when I read it, I thought: “Are you nuts? Why would you let your twelve-year-old son leave you for his long-absent dad?” The Light in the Piazza reminded me why.

Oh, right, Tiger: I hope this will be my only entry into the Tiger Woods Schadenfreude sweepstakes, but enter I will. Even though I, too, have slept with him, I’ve never really warmed up to the guy, and not just because I don’t get the whole golf thing. In fact, I might have gotten more interested in golf had I found something — besides the undeniable athletic genius, of course — to like. But no one is as chilly and machine-like as Tiger came across, really. Now we see that he’s…well, he’s a mess. And why? No shortage of amateur armchair psychologists here, and I might as well chime in. Lack of first-hand (or any hand) information will prove no barrier here.

Add Woods to Michael Jackson and countless other athletes and celebrities with insanely pushy, hermetic parents. I don’t know anything about Woods’s childhood, and it may be that his admittedly overbearing father did pretty well given his son’s early evidence of superhuman ability. But we all need to let our kids learn how to breathe on their own. If we don’t, they’ll hyperventilate later.

And perhaps pass out. As I was writing this, Tiger emerged from his bunker to announce an indefinite leave from golf.

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