Thursday, August 14, 2008

Puppet Séance, Magic Tricks, Dead Horses & Silent Women in Lingerie wearing Cowboy Hats…

Okay, so many friends have been intrigued by the experimental show we saw in NYC a few weeks ago. I will comment briefly on it, as it is still a work-in-progress by Active Eye Theater and I don't want to give any spoilers.

And its a little hard to explain fully, anyway.


But first, my mini-review of Sam Shepard's new play KICKING A DEAD HORSE which we saw at The Public Theater, starring Stephen Rea.

The more I think about this new work from the cowboy poet who brought us BURIED CHILD and TRUE WEST (truly two of the greatest American plays ever written), the more I love it. For the past decade, Shepard has been making a good living popping up acting in movies and occasionally writing stuff like THE LATE HENRY MOSS    and GOD OF HELL (not altogether brilliant and mostly recycled motifs from earlier works). But in KICKING A DEAD HORSE, it feels like Shepard has turned a corner, has taken the idea of the existentialist cowboy to the extreme and brought us a clown/vaudeville show in the desert, a one-act that Beckett would grin and nod approvingly at.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Hobart is a successful art dealer who was able to make a fortune by scouring the west and buying old Remington paintings from saloons, selling them to Manhattan- ites. He's originally from the badlands, but has spent decades in NYC and has lost his grasp on "authenticity" and pines for his youth, and his old horse. When the lights come up, we find Hobart in the middle of the prairie, digging a large grave, his old horse lying sideways nearby. As he talks to us, and himself, he tries to get the horse into the grave because he can't "just leave him". But the horse is stubborn and doesn't want to go (or maybe doesn't want to go in by himself). Night falls. It rains. Hobart tries to put up a tent which never stays up. The sun comes up again and finally, Hobart manages to get that horse in the grave, but the consequences of that are pretty grim.

And yes, as the title suggest, he really does kick the dead horse.

More than once.

It's actually pretty cool--I've never seen that on stage before...

No conversation about the play can begin without commenting on Rea's performance. It's basically a one-man show (with the exception of a young woman in a nightgown briefly appearing out of the grave with his cowboy hat on while he sings "I'm a rambler"…who is this woman? Is she a lost love? The hat? His wife at a young age? We never really know…). There is a circus hall style to the play and to his performance, and he shifts from that style to naturalism with ease and grace. And he's really funny without losing the gravity of the situation.

What I love about the play is its simplicity (I'm a big fan of simplicity, if you couldn't tell by my endless rants about it in these here blogs). It feels like Shepard's grown aware of the fact he's getting old and is staring down at a beckoning grave, much like Hobarth. And beyond just this personal reflections on the past and present, this search for authenticity in one's soul and actions, there is also the political ideals of the "western world" and how we relate to others.

To sum up, its one of those plays that haunts you for a while, one that can't be tightly wrapped up like a birthday present. Truths that linger…


On the other end of the spectrum of simplicity was the puppet play we saw in a small rehearsal room at the Women's Project, directed Jyana Brown and presented by the company members of Active Eye Theater.


Like I said, this is still in workshop stages, so I don't want to divulge too much other than the fact that what they're doing is totally brilliant.

No, really. And those that know me know I don't toss that around lightly…

Okay, but the fun thing, before I say anything about the show, is that one of the theater members, Andrew Grusetskie, was in my early Off-off-Broadway production of LOVE'S LABORS WON OR BENVOLIO IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN THE BAHAMAS at Vital Theater. I remember saying goodbye to him at a friend's apartment when he left for school in London and hadn't seen him since. Which, I mean, good for him, but I really liked his work in my play and would've used him in many, many other things if I could've…And then there he was in this show…!

Anyway, without giving too much away, they adapted an ancient puppet play from Japan (was it 15th century?). It's set during a time when many love-suicides were happening. The show is set up as a play within a play and as we watch them "rehearse" very strange things start to happen. Props fall off the desk, off the walls; actors do strange things completely unawares. There are some magic tricks and illusions and eventually the actors become "possessed" by the spirits of these characters (or are they spirits of real love-suicides?) and end being manipulated as if they were puppets. And then at the end there is a séance.

So, um, like I said, it's a little hard to describe. But very, very cool. And quite inspiring, especially for the show I'm working on in the fall.

That's what I love about going to see theater—when its brilliant, that is—it completely inspires you and reminds you, "That's the kind of stuff I want to see on stage! That's what I want to write/direct/produce!"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post... I can see that you put a lot of hard work on your blog. I'm sure I'd visit here more often.
from Magic Tricks.