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[personal profile] choco_frosh
OK. So, while it's somewhat fresh in my mind, I should write up a quick review of the play I saw on riday night, namely

LEGBALA IS A RIVER
Written and performed by Bess Welden, Directed by Dan Burson, developed with a whole bunch of input from everybody involved.


Hm. Every way I can think of to start this description ("It's kind of like a performance piece..." "It's about the Ebola virus..." "It's about the breakdown and rebuilding of a relationship and a family...") is going to be midleading or downright inaccurate. Well, so maybe I could start with explaining what it isn't. So:

In a certain sense, this is a one-woman show: Bess Welden is the only actor onstage at any point. Actually, even "onstage" is a bit of a misnomer: the show is specifically designed to be performed in the round, with the audience sitting around the edge of the set, a few of them even in the middle: gathered together to hear a storyteller's tales. The atmosphere of summer camp/tribal hearth is heightened by the fact that the set is, in fact, a big, weird tent, with a dirt floor.* All of this sounds like it COULD be horribly... maudlin?...but it manages not to be.

I'm getting off the topic.

So Bess Welden is the only actor, but she's not the only performer.** She's accompanied by
- a voice actor (yes, working live)
- an incredibly talented, multi-instrument musician
- an incredibly talented artist, who's going to be drawing the story on the walls at certain points in the narrative.***

(And I think Dan described the whole shebang at one point as "Four people and a set designer", so we should give them props as well. Anyway.)

So part of what gave me this sense of a performance piece is the way that, while being theater, it also transcends that medium in various ways. (I haven't even gotten into the audiovisual stuff or the way it's like puppetry or mime.) And part of it is the way that the audience is so very intimately involved with the performance.
And part of it is the way that it is so very very hard to describe what this is a play about.

This is a play about a man who goes to Liberia on a humanitarian mission to fight the Ebola virus.
This is a play about his wife, left alone (with their sons and a spider) back in the US.
This is a play about mythology: African and American.
This is a play about (and featuring) building things out of Lego.
This is a play about bridges and rivers.
This is a play about the breakdown of a relationship.
This is a play about the rebuilding of relationships.
This is a play about Anansi, spider and trickster and hero and troublemaker, going to the house of Death.
This is a play about Ebola, and what that means.
This is a play about how we respond and cope (or fail to respond or to cope, or respond and cope badly) with psychological stress.
This is a play about a woman losing her mind and rediscovering her Jewishness.
... And losing and finding and finding and losing so many other things, and in the end we still don't know how the story is going to end, and the strands of the web all intersect and stick to each other and to everything else, and it all hangs together, stronger than steel.

Other things I wrote on the program:
Tom Stackpole.****
Southern Jews are a thing?!?
Sukkhot like Fall?
sukkot shlomecha
Oddfellows
by embracing us in living waters
the poetry of the monologues.

And over and over again,
In the midst of life we are in death
* * * * *

"I'd tell you to tell more people to come," the stage manager told the audience at the end of the show, "but our last performance is tomorrow, and we're sold out already." So I will tell you: go see this show when they do it again, in Summer Stock or at Portland Stage or wherever. Badger people to bring it to Boston, to Chicago, to the up-and-coming theater in the suburbs or the new performance space that just opened or the outdoor theater festival. Go see it, when- and wherever it goes up again.
This was an incredible experience.


* At one point in the play's (long) development, they were thinking about the logistics of atually staging it outisde: I think moving the yurt/sukkah/tent inside was a good idea for the first public performance, although a) this doesn't mean it couldn't be done in an ACTUAL tent, and b) doing it inside meant they had to actually CREATE a dirt floor indoors, and...
** Nor, of course, the only character. She's at least four characters, and that's not even counting the mythological ones.
*** I actually won one of these in a raffle; I will try to post pictures.
**** OK, I'll actually explain this one. Tom Stackpole is a college classmate of mine, and right around the time we graduated he was doing this webcomic where instead of panels, you saw part of a picture and then a little bit more of a picture and then more and then the whole, and that's the nearest thing to what Leticia Plate does on brown paper on the walls of the set in real time to tell the story of Anansi Does The Impossible.
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