“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” intones the Great and Powerful Oz before his exposure as a fraud in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Indeed, often unnoticed behind the curtain are the pit orchestra members, straining to hear cues and attempting to flawlessly play our parts in cramped, dark quarters.
But being backstage–out of view yet close enough to the action to be endangered by falling set pieces–tends to lend a different perspective on a show. Having spent the better part of the past month seated at a keyboard for the Worthington High School production of “The Wizard of Oz,” hearing repeated dialogue and songs, I acquired an unusual take on that expertly executed musical.
Those who see in “Oz” the more commonly accepted themes of life’s journeys, self-discovery/empowerment, finding one’s heart’s desire, home/love at the end of the rainbow or the triumph of good over evil may not delight in my epiphany.
Allow me to suggest “The Wizard of Oz” is, at its core, a legal drama disguised as an adolescent girl’s flight of fancy.
Consider what drives Dorothy Gale’s adventures en route to the Emerald City. Dorothy’s dog, Toto, has often and without invitation trotted onto Miss Almira Gultch’s property, harassing her cat and digging up her garden. Dorothy readily admits this, but despite Gultch’s numerous requests that Dorothy’s dog cease and desist, she fails to take appropriate action to restrain her pet–who ultimately bites Gultch after she hits him with a rake (perfectly within her legal rights, though not endearing her to animal lovers).
Quick consultation with my resident legal expert (who has, perhaps, influenced my world view over the past 25 years more than I realized) determines that at least three charges could be brought against Toto’s owner based on the above scenario: dog-at-large, trespassing and “civil liability for damages resulting from the animal’s bite.” Additionally, Dorothy makes a “terroristic threat” against Gultch, saying “I’ll bite you myself!” and publicly defames Gultch by calling her a “wicked old witch.”
Gultch files an official complaint with the sheriff, who provides her with an order to dispose of the offending animal. After Toto escapes from Gultch, Dorothy flees with the dog (becoming a CHIPS candidate?) and is caught in a tornado. Upon landing in Oz, Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch of the East–but rather than being charged with homicide, she is feted by the Munchkins as their national heroine for eliminating their enemy.
And what about Glinda, otherwise known as the Good Witch of the North? What right does she have to give Dorothy the ruby slippers, which technically belong to the decedent’s survivors–in this case, the Wicked Witch of the West (WWW)? Didn’t Dorothy, in fact, receive stolen property? And why wouldn’t the WWW be angry with Dorothy for having caused the death of her sister and stolen her inheritance?
Also included is a coroner’s inquest, convened to investigate a suspicious death. Theft occurs, too, with the Scarecrow and Dorothy stealing apples from trees in the Enchanted Forest and, later, a broomstick. Dorothy commits a second homicide when she melts the WWW with a pail of water. And what of that “I didn’t inhale” exposure to drug-laced poppies?
But it’s Gultch/WWW we perceive as the villainess, when in fact the evidence against Dorothy (a head-strong, self-focused adolescent runaway who won’t assist her aunt and uncle with farm chores or keep tabs on her dog) is piling up towards the Kansas sky.
Yes, the WWW demonstrates intent to inflict significant bodily harm when she throws a fire ball at the Scarecrow…but why does Dorothy suffer no penalties for her ill behavior? Is she too cute to be found guilty of anything other than being an irresponsible teenager, while Gultch/WWW is an unattractive, unfriendly spinster and thus becomes wholly unsympathetic in most people’s eyes?
Maybe you’re concluding I’ve spent too much time thinking behind the curtain, or knocked my noggin after slipping on ice, but despite Jessica Arnt’s lovely portrayal of Dorothy (and adorable Kokomo Schutte as Toto), that Kansas gal looks like less of a “good witch” and more of a nuisance to me.
Peace, love and understanding may lie over the rainbow; justice may prove to be a more elusive commodity in your own backyard.