by Vince Duvall~
October. Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall. But theater goes on. I don’t know what has sparked the blaze of original and provocative theatre in Hollywood but carrying the torch for every show I’ve seen there is the Theatre of NOTE on Cahuenga at Sunset. Really, how do they do it? The Theatre of NOTE reliably raises relevant works of art with fresh perspective and solid performance. Delondra William’s seasonal and enchanting Skeleton Stories is no exception. Bill Voorhees has directed one of those hip, sexy and surprising plays – actually a collection of mini-plays linked with a heroine’s journey – where transformation happens right in front of you – literally, people, sets, things transform. And then you walk away changed, considering things newly and liking the world a little more. My only beef is that the theatre isn’t larger. And it disturbs me just a little to know that I Spit On Your Grave is playing 4 theaters deep at the Mann Chinese who could easily kick one of those theatres over to the NOTE – audience in tact – and everyone would be a little better off. Oh well, I got my seat. And just in time. The house is full, there is smoke in the air and the stage is already emitting a ritual glow. Skulls and candles and uh oh – something is going to happen here.
I grew up misunderstanding Halloween in terms of the amount (and type) of candy I could get. Yes, there was a costume and sometimes parties but the real opportunity to know our union with the dead, the land of Hades, a soul’s journey to love and let go and other themes, was lost to Snickers and Sweet Tarts. And while the presenters might say that their play has nothing to do with Halloween, I couldn’t help appreciating the value of a fresh cultural perspective on said themes. At this time of the year when, all over the world, we seem a little closer to the other side: All Souls Day, Walpurgis night (E. Europe), Feast of Samhain (Celts). Pagan (my favorite) and African rituals of the dead. Or the Day of the Dead (la Dia de los Muertos), the mostly Mexican holiday – thought it dates back to the Mayans and Aztecs – where those we have lost are remembered and where this play takes place.
At the outset, a father and daughter. She has blood on her hands. Not that of somebody she has axe murdered, but her own blood. She is becoming a woman and needs a kind of guidance her father seems to lack. Whether by chance or by will, she is going to journey into the underworld to find her dead mother – whose name, Corazon, means heart in Spanish – and bring her back. But first Maya – played innocently and with heart by Nina Harada – must meet her guide. All dogs are guides (which is the truth by the way – if you are mean to dogs they take you to hell in the hereafter. That’s a fact.) Yellow Dog has the powers to guide her through the phases of the underworld. He is quippy and sexual and played by Rick Steadman. He gives her the lay of the land and soon they are jumping off into seas of blue – a silk screen stretched across the stage, lost souls are swimming and light is splashing. It’s magic. The kind of theater that goes beyond just telling us stories and creates a world for us.
The stories? A man who can’t let love go. Don’t look too hard or he’ll fly away. One man turns into a giant butterfly – in front of our eyes. Another into a monster who can’t get past his sexual childhood. Temptation, vanity, our fixation on staying young – “I don’t date anyone who can legally drink,” snaps the perfunctory and well spoken lawyer played with precision by Keith Allan. And then there are the Boneheads – the war on Halloween night – these girls are hilarious and poignant: what do we do with death? ” Invite him in and give him some candy, ” what else. He’s death after all and he’s got his own stories to tell. Out there on the battlefield, where death lives, now he’s a soldier, played with detail and intimacy by Joshua Wolf Coleman. Death, in his skull mask, with the remote in one hand staring at the TV, “God Dam, there’s nothing on” – and he’s right. Thank God we are at the theater.
It’s not fair to single anyone out of the ensemble in a show like this. I should just name everyone but you can go see for yourself and read the program. Every one of the actors participates on many levels, playing multiple roles, providing the inspired movement for the dance transitions or the crafty and articulate stage tricks. The set design, sound and lighting (Joel Daavid, Mark McClain Wilson and Matt Richter respectively) all add currents to an already bubbling presentation. Mr. Voorhees has orchestrated a wonderful symphony of live media and the actors are spot on. And it’s only week two.
Enter death. He’s gonna do a little dance to The Chipmunks “Life Could Be a Dream.” He’s the one who’s got her mother trapped on strings. Despite his abuse, Corazon stitches herself together – like our hearts do – mending themselves over time. Maya has gone through phases of the deep to confront him and she does, in a wonderful finale of dance and theatrics. But you can’t bring people back from the dead, after all (that’s also the truth). Somehow though, in her journey and union with her mother on this Day of the Dead, she still learns a little more about how to be a woman, what it means to be human in fact – “made of bones and dirt. ” We can’t give up life for the dead but we can learn to love more by remembering.
At the end of No Country for Old Men, Tommy Lee Jones’ archetypal character describes a dream he has had to his wife, a dream of his dead father. He recalls watching his father pass by him carrying fire. “And I knew that he was going on, and was fixing to make a fire up there ahead in all that dark and cold and I knew that whenever I got there, he’d be there. Then I woke up. ” Skeleton Stories may teach us something about that kind of hope but, I think, even more, it urges us to love what’s here and now. And have a little fun doing it.
Skeleton Stories is performed Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7:00pm (with special performances on 10/28 and 10/31 – Halloween!) through November 6th, 2010.
Theatre of NOTE is located at 1517 Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood, just north of Sunset. Street Parking
Tickets: $22 General Admission. $18 Students & Seniors.
Tickets at www.TheatreofNote.com or call 323.856.8611.