We worked on “Pretty Women” last night, when the Judge arrives for a shave at Sweeney Todd’s shop. As for the Judge, this shave on the eve of his wedding. . . he must feel, for the first time in 15 years, like a normal man, he must sense this act as the first step towards his deliverance into a kind of normalcy. As for Sweeney, why not just kill the Judge?
The moment has arrived, but it is not a knife through the shower curtain EEE! EEE! EEE! moment. Sweeney says revenge must be savored, not taken in haste. Yes, that’s part of it. And, also, Sweeney is a consummate barber. All his victims met their maker impeccably shaved. So there is pride in the work. But there is also more.
I was reminded of this passage from Michael Ondatjee’s Coming Through Slaughter. Buddy Bolden reflects on his work as a barber:
“I see them watch their own faces for the twenty minutes they sit below me. Men hate to see themselves change. They laugh nervously. This is the power I live in. I manipulate their looks. They trust me with the cold razor at the vein under their ears. They trust me with the liquid soap cupped in my palms as I pass by their eyes and massage it into their hair. Dream of the neck. Gushing onto the floor and my white apron.”
The power, vulnerability and trust implicit act of shaving a man’s face is revealed anew to Sweeney. And, in the shaving of the judge’s face, is there not also a certain transformation taking place? A desire on Sweeney’s part to get as close to this man’s flesh as possible, to see in the mirror the face and skin that Lucy saw the night she went to the ball? And, might that not also trigger for Sweeney actual flashes, as our vocal director pointed out, of Lucy? Seeing Lucy at the window, Lucy brushing her hair, Lucy sipping coffee. The pleasures of domesticity, the memories of which catch in Sweeney’s throat, and, bittersweet, invite him to linger just a bit longer before taking his revenge. And perhaps this is also his goodbye to Lucy, for, at this point in the play, there is nothing keeping him on this earth. His own death is also in his hands, within his grasp.