I saw the play A Life today, written by this fellow Adam Bock (who also wrote A Small Fire, which remains one of my maximal theatergoing experiences), and it ended in the middle of a sentence, with the words “Oh, and—.” Just "Oh, and—” the stage went black and the lights came up and everybody clapped. I brushed away a tear (9 times out of 10 I cry at the theater) and thought of my good buddy and coworker Kelly, who is no fan of ambiguous endings. Kelly would have been furious and would have said something like “If I’m paying for it, you owe me a whole story. Don’t expect me to make up the ending.” She thinks it’s lazy and, I guess, a cop-out. (She’s also anti-Mad Libs, btw, which I know because I asked.)
Hers is a valid opinion and all and she’s welcome to it, but I love making up the ending. A little ambiguity is good for the heart and the brain, I think. I love hanging my own peg on “Oh, and—” and having it reverberate as I bounce down the stairs and out into the sunlight and noise and mayhem of 42nd Street. You need something to distract you when you’re walking down 42nd Street. Otherwise you will murder someone, eventually.
The trick is that the character in A Life, played by David Hyde Pierce, is actually dead as he speaks this line, which I suppose is technically A SPOILER. He dies in the middle of the play and we see a friend find his body and we see the medical examiners show up and cart him off and we see him being prepped at the morgue and we see eulogies at his gravesite. We see life go on. The mourners leave and he walks back onstage and tells us what it’s like to be lowered into the ground, to be covered with the earth and to hear the birds, and it’s clear that he’s different from the person we saw earlier, that he’s learned something. “Oh, and—”
Oh, and nobody gets to fully tell their story. That’s what a life means.