Why 'Dear Evan Hansen' Resonates

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 / 4:29 PM

There's been a lot of hype around Dear Evan Hansen (even before the Tony's), and rightfully so: it's music is powerful, it's story is striking. There's a lot of emotion packed into this show, and I know there's been a fair share of criticism about it too, but I can only speak from my own experience about what I felt walking into the show and what I felt walking out of it.

By the time I went to see the show, I was incredibly familiar with the music, but only somewhat familiar with the details of the plot. I knew what the show was about, how the characters related to one another, and where the music fell in the story, but I didn't want to know every line/every scene/every detail before I saw it on stage. So walking into the theatre, I knew what I could expect in the broadest terms.

Dear Evan Hansen is, to sum it up briefly, about suicide, anxiety, and what happens when a lie spins out of control in a very public way. Those tentpoles of the show build a story that is complex and challenging because – here's the thing: it's hard to root for Evan Hansen, 100%. In the beginning, you feel empathy for him. He's a lonely teen who struggles to accept that his voice matters to anyone, including, at some points, to his own mother. But as he carries on with the lie that he was best friends with a classmate who killed himself, things spin out of control and he begins to not only own the lie, but manipulate it.

On the surface, it's the most selfish thing an audience could witness; and yet, I think one of the reasons it makes you feel uncomfortable as you watch it is because we can all recognize Evan in ourselves in some way.

Yes, his struggle to be accepted causes him to do something crazy. And while this is an extreme "something," I would dare to say that it strikes audiences so deeply because it brings our own darkest thoughts to the surface. If you were the outsider (or, maybe, you are) and you found yourself in Evan's situation: what would you do? Would you not be tempted to imagine a world where the one person who saw you once could maybe have seen you for years? When Connor signs Evan's cast in the beginning of the show, he follows it up with, "Now we both can pretend we have friends." And for a second, you see a glimmer of loneliness in Connor's face that exists in Evan's too. We're all struggling.

As Evan continues on with the lie, some viewers have called it narcissistic. Even Jared calls him out on it in the show at one point, saying to some effect: "Connor's suicide is the best thing that ever happened to you." But I don't think he did what he did to feed his own ego. In fact, as things go off the rails, he tries to take control by showing he can do some good with The Connor Project.

There's a bit of desperation in each of the characters that doesn't manifest itself into an obvious cry for help. And even the moments that are an obvious cry, there are still no "good vs. bad guys" in this story. Audiences are meant to feel the frenzy and the helplessness that doesn't let up until the bright blue skies shine through at the show's final scene. If there's a takeaway from this show that isn't obvious if you haven't seen it, it's that the things in life that hurt don't have to also be the things that destroy us; that the things in life about others that hurt don't have to be the things that destroy them either; that we are all hurting and no matter what our life stories are, we deserve to be seen at least once. We deserve to be found.

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