I have never seen the musical, "A Little Night Music," and so had never heard that particular line of dialogue that comes in the middle of the song, "Send in the Clowns." But in browsing around on YouTube a couple of nights ago, I stumbled upon a clip of Dame Judy Dench performing that song. At the time (mid 1990's) she had been playing the role of Desiree in a production in London. During an interview on a British talk show, she explained the role of that song. "It is a very angry song."
I was used to the version done by Judy Collins, who has a lovely singing voice. What I had forgotten is that Sondheim wrote "Send in the Clowns" for an actress who was not a singer; oh one who could carry a tune, but not a beautiful lyrical voice like Collins, or others who have recorded this song. Watching Dench's dramatic, controlled, angry rendition of "Send in the Clowns" transformed this song for me. It is a song of regrets, of accusation, of remorse, and of grief at the missed opportunities and bad timing in a relationship.
Hence the line I quote at the beginning of this post. It is spoken by the man who is Desiree's husband, and it represents his confession. He never intended to be saved, even though he came and acted as if, given enough talk, dialogue, and time he and she could repair the damage done and come to a full understanding and a renewed relationship. Finally, he confesses his part in the farce.
Why does this song speak to me now? Well, it isn't a perfect analogy to recent events at the ELCA churchwide assembly, but there is just enough to jar me into recognizing the anger and the regret of this most recent stage in this denominational drama. "Send in the clowns! -- Don't bother. They're here."
But don't take my word for it. Listen to it yourself.
And, yes: maybe, next year.