Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Being Mr. Banks

Over these past two months, Mr. George Banks, Esquire has become an important part of my life. I am humbled by the opportunity to portray him on the stage of the Lander’s Theatre as a part of the Springfield Little Theatre production of “Mary Poppins.” I have come to know George Banks quite well. And I must say, I love him dearly.

Mr. Banks’ defining question is - “Is that enough?” Of course, he doesn't realize that is THE question of his life until he says it out loud to a bank customer named Mr. Von Hussler. But once that question has been spoken, everything begins to change for George.

Because, you see … the way he is living - it really isn't “enough.”

It is not enough to sit in your study and never tell your children goodnight. It is not enough to relate to your wife as if all you do in the relationship is “pay for everything.” It is not enough to give up on your dreams because they were beaten out of you as a child.

Precision and order are not enough.

But as a boy growing up, he had been taught that it is. Precision and order, knowing the “right people,” children kept out of their father’s way … these are the values that have shaped George Banks. His parents were absent, and glad to be rid of him. His Nanny was abusive verbally and physically. One gets the idea that he was often alone.

And yet there is a spark in there, deep down. In his heart of hearts there is still the little boy who ran off from his Nanny to collect gingerbread stars from Mrs. Corry and hide them away where no one would find them. It is hard to imagine George Banks spending time in Mrs. Corry’s shop in the park, such a far cry from the buttoned-down world he inhabits. He was obviously drawn to the chaos and color, the “untidiness” so foreign to his experience at home.

Mrs. Banks knows that spark; she has seen it. Winnifred fell in love with THAT Mr. Banks, and he knows it. When he interacts with her, he mimics his father’s treatment of his mother, because he thinks that is “enough.” But he knows better. She is his last, tenuous connection to his true and better self, and when he finally realizes it, his line “How can you ever forgive me?” feels so meager and inadequate. Her response, however, “How can you even ask?” demonstrates the fire of her character even as it melts the last little shard of ice in his heart.

There is a special bond between Mr. Banks and his daughter. George is just as “thoughtless, short-tempered, and untidy” as Jane is. Jane treats the servants precisely the way she has seen her father treat them. It is Jane who notes that “Father would never approve” of their trip to the park with Bert. Jane’s curiosity at the bank elicits pride from her father, and clarifies an important decision he must make. In many ways, Jane is very much George’s daughter and Michael is very much Winnifred’s son (mother and son both tend to the “noisy, mischievous, and troublesome” side of things).

And finally ... Mary Poppins. “It’s that Poppins woman! SHE’S the one responsible.” But you know, Mary Poppins doesn't really “save” George Banks. Mary Poppins creates opportunities for people to save themselves, and to save others they love. Mr. Banks is saved by Winnifred’s devotion, by Jane’s strength, by Michael’s whimsy, by Bert’s wisdom. Mr. Banks is saved by Mrs. Corry’s gingerbread stars. Mary Poppins flies in and cracks everything open, like an old vase falling from a high shelf and out of the heirloom fly shining sparks of light. Mary Poppins will place the broken kite on stage, but she will leave it to him to pick it up and repair it.

I remember seeing David Tomlinson’s portrayal in the movie, but not really “seeing” him. He was tangential, almost. His Mr. Banks was two-dimensional - stuffy and uptight became free and happy. Only after seeing the movie “Saving Mr. Banks” and hearing that one line, “You think she’s come to save the children?” did I realize that there is much more here than just the caricature of a British gentleman banker.

Thankfully, the stage version of Mr. Banks is much more nuanced than the movie. He is multi-dimensional, with layers of back story that add such depth to his identity. He is certainly not a shallow Disney cartoon character on stage. He is real. He is true. He could be me.

I suspect that I love him so dearly because I do see myself in him in some ways. Not in his horrible childhood of course, but certainly in the way his priorities become skewed and his family suffers in consequence. Certainly in the way the pressure of his work clouds every other part of his life. Certainly in the way that his wife and children are the core of his identity and the source of all his life’s meaning, even if he seems to forget that from time to time.

Mr. George Banks, Esquire has become my constant companion of late. I wish you all could know him as well as I do. I’ll do my best to introduce him to you, if you’ll come see the show. Perhaps you’ll fall in love with him, as I have.


Dick Davidson said...

Hi Andy,

We had the pleasure of being a visitor at Campbell when your sang "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables. Glad to see you continue to bring your amazing talent to the stage.

Karen said...

Wow! Can't wait to see the show! I will definitely have a much greater appreciation for it and all that is represented within the characters now.
Thank you for sharing this!