So my play Bad Panda, after a crazy-long development, is finally getting its world premiere next month at Baltimore’s Iron Crow Theatre Company. I love my director, I love the company, I’m super-stoked to see the production. And when the real-life panda Mei Xiang had a surprise baby last week at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., we all celebrated and took it as a good omen.
And then the baby died. And I feel awful.
Intellectually, I understand that panda babies die in captivity all the time. I read somewhere that of the seven babies they’ve managed to breed in captivity at the National Zoo, only one has survived. But it still hits me in the gut, considering the timing. As of this writing, they don’t know what caused the death, but they found milk in the baby’s stomach, so they ruled out starvation. In my playwright’s imagination, that means the mama loved the baby and the whole thing is all the sadder.
Bad Panda is a play largely about families. The two pandas are the last two pandas on earth, and they’re trying to make a baby. And they’re having a really hard time succeeding. And the play is a comedy, and it ends happily, etc., but underpinning the whole play is this shadow of loss and death: they’re the last two pandas. On earth.
The director, the actor who plays the female panda, and I have all been grieving via Facebook. I have no doubt that if I were in Baltimore right now, we’d all go out for drinks and a good cry. I don’t think I realized how invested I was in this real-life panda and how I tied it to my pretend-pandas’ fortunes until now.
It will be interesting to see how this affects the Baltimore production; it will certainly color my own reception of it opening night.
So Joseph, Katie and company: Keep the faith. Let’s imagine the baby panda cavorting in baby panda heaven. And let’s all cross our fingers that this tragedy is not actually a show omen.