Bits and Bobs From Theatre Land

A lesser known, at least to me, United Solo Theatre festival of performance pieces, almost blew into town without noticing. In its fourth year, I'm glad I finally did catch up with it. So far, I've seen only two shows, but the commitment, intensity and charm of the shows makes it a very worthwhile platform for talent.

Josie Hyde, an artist from the West Coast, is model tall, lithe and speaks in a rhythm that is soothing in its musicality. In Wind in a Mirror...Ayahuasca Visions, she stands before a screen that projects constantly changing images, psychedelic and spiritual. Her story is one of her search for personal truths by facing emotional questions and pains. She does this by taking the botanical medicine called Ayahuasca, a vine that takes its travelers on a trip that opens up portals to realities not seen in the everyday and helps to release psychological blocks.

I have taken this medicine and though while experiencing my kundalini for the first time; I also experienced throwing up for eight hours straight. It would take a lot of encouragement for my body to put itself through that again. But Ms. Hyde, using many different Ayahuasca experiences, speaks and sings poetically of her discoveries, merging childhood recollections with self-observations that are often funny did she need the expensive designer rabbit coat that sits in the back of her closet while tramping around the Amazon barefoot?

Ms. Hyde manages to remember and recite reams of text and slips fluidly into a sort of hip hop when the story requires a shift of rhythm. Though in need of editing, it's a compelling look into the expanse of the undiscovered mind and soul. That she also painted the hypnotic art work makes it a magical mystery tour indeed.

Magic comes in many forms and witty clown Robert Jägerhorn from Finland, shows up in Waiting for Hitchcock like a Lapland Cary Grant, graceful and winsome, apologizing for not being able to show a recently discovered lost film of Alfred Hitchcock. The projector breaks but somehow the film turns into all sorts of fun objects. He does some standard magical moves, like card counting, but everything is in a new form and style and is really amusing. For a movie junkie like me, to see a jar of popcorn kernels instantly turn into a bog of the popped delicacy was complete surprise and pleasure. Another magician's girlfriend, sitting next to me, kept trying to figure out the trick, but gave up, happy to be so amused.
Apparently Mr. Jägerhorn is a very famous magician in Finland and appears quite often at the Magic Castle in LA, but this is a performance with a real story line and many personal touches. While waiting to congratulate him on his success, he lit with fire what looked like a piece of dental floss, which while burning, turned into a string of pearls in front of my eyes. Then it suddenly became a small, white poodle. Hitchcock was never so smooth.

Last spring I had the pleasure of observing Max Stafford-Clark in directing rehearsals for The Seagull which was going to be produced at the Culture Project. As director of London's Royal Court, Mr. Stafford- Clark is a force to be reckoned with. I loved watching his approach to verbs. The actors had to really focus on the verbiage of Chekhov's text. As he was working with an adaptation by Thomas Kilroy that moves the location from Russia to Ireland, he gave a history lesson on the Irish-English class wars and farm issues to better inform the players.

The cast worked beautifully together... I especially enjoyed Trudi Styler's Isobel, (Arkadina in original version). Looking like a young Wendy Hiller, she was both captivating and annoyingly shrewd. When her poor son Constantine (Tigorin) kisses her a little too closely on the lips, you wonder just how narcissistic can she be. Nina, now called Lily, is as taken by the idea of fame as the Kardashians and her throaty voice and fresh features will give her a long career. Alan Cox as Isobel's aging boy toy was both smarmy and seductive and though the whole of the cast was fine, something didn't quite click. I was hoping to feel more urgency or at least compassion for the group's admission of desperation, but never quite got there, even with the impending threat of suicide. And when the dead seagull first appears, those of us in row D couldn't see the action so that symbol of early death was blocked by the large head seated in front of me.

Still, it's always good to revisit the 'classics' and move them to different locales. The first time I saw this play, I was too young to feel the disappointments many of these characters experience; now unfortunately, I really get it. And as people are really the same everywhere, it was fine to move it to Ireland, though it seems an opportunity to infuse the story with more of the Irish sense of poetry; that was missed and with it, real empathy. Still, it's a great theatre for political ideas and deserves huge support from theatrical and activist community alike.