dry bones rising is a dystopian think piece with dreamy undertones. It’s a peek into how a child makes believe to survive hate and find hope. To make everything right.
Venus Artistic Director Deborah Randall, in her program notes, describes it as an “epic poem” whose style she compares to a mix of Mary Shelley and the poet ee cummings.
Cummings shunned conventional punctuation and capitalization in favor of innovative syntax to capture the ways in which people speak (and even think). Free. Unencumbered. Open. Honest. Often meandering. In that way, Cecelia Raker—a Boston-based playwright and Harvard grad—has written an intriguing script that toys with language. It’s thought provoking. Avant-garde. Highly exaggerated. A theatrical rumination of the world should all the “walls” fall after a cataclysmic event leads to chaos, hunger. Loneliness.
For Raker, her play is “the wild two-children-survive-the-apocalypse-and-build-a-golem poemplay.” That’s an apt description: science fiction meets religious folklore à la the questionable creation of a “man” (as in Shelley’s Frankenstein).
This is the world premiere of dry bones rising and it may be the most original play in the DC area this year.
Only Venus Theatre could pull it off in such a tiny space, no bigger than most living rooms. Randall easily reshapes her Laurel, MD theatre for every show. The last time I visited, the set included half of a VW Beetle. This time we see a cavernous wasteland filled with mud cliffs. Bolts of stained cloth and a couple of platforms evoke a barren but earthy world in a place, not surprisingly named just Mud. Browns abound and even the actors are covered in varying shades of it.
Her (Ann Fraistat) and Him (Erin Hanratty) meet on these mucky cliffs outside a wrecked civilization. In the distance, fire. The low rumbling of destruction hums incessantly (thanks to great sound by Neil McFadden, who uses both heavy metal and REM). They come from different sides of the wall. Definitely from different religions. Different beliefs. Him talks about God. Her counters with talk about gods.
Despite this, they form a shaky friendship based on their recent aloneness and strike a deal. Him will help Her with a project—to make a man out of mud for a surrogate parent—and in return Her will run away with Him to someplace better. Because, “everything yummy’s been disappeared for a long time.” Him and Her’s parents, too, are gone. Who wreaked this havoc? Them. Mostly, a bunch of men and/or “Terrorfists.”
Her and Him do make that mud man. It’s an act in which Him is not keen to participate, but a promise is a promise, and, thus, he provides some of the key ingredients needed to help the creature lumber to life. Mudman (Allison Turkel) is a dirty, brown mess (again, no surprise there) with human eyes. He’s uneasy on his feet. He grumbles and stumbles about. Mudman’s hands provide for Him and Her and, later, divide them; he is both protector and destroyer. I know little about Jewish folklore, but Mudman seems to qualify as a spot-on depiction of the classic golem. Kudos to Turkel, who could have easily done very little with the part. Mudman is, after all, made of dirt/water and dumb, slow, helplessness, etc…. But, Turkel gives him a distinct walk, voice, and even finds ways of showing emotion and feeling. It’s excellent work.
DRY BONES RISING
May 21 – June 13, 2015
Venus Theatre at
Venus Theatre Play Shack
21 C Street
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Fraistat and Hanratty, too, are resourceful actresses with sharp skills who cross the line from adults playing at forced self-deception to children simply playing pretend. They stammer and stomp and are hyper verbal while they negotiate their new world and relationship. They fill their characters with idiosyncrasies and bring to life Raker’s wonderful words, which despite the heaviness of the show often have a liveliness to them. Fraistat as the bossy girl could easily steal the show, but Hanratty fills the boy with such sweetness, he’s the character on which your thoughts may linger.
Mudman, much like Frankenstein’s monster, is a sore sight. His appearance is truly disturbing—a frozen, unblinking countenance animated by Tara Cariaso’s superb mask, which is, perhaps, slightly less unsettling than Vanessa Q. Levesque’s dummy: a massive corpse for which Him has an understandable affinity about which we learn in the most heart-breaking scenes.
Truly, this—the first full-length play by Raker ever produced—is an original show that leaps from some grand literary traditions – playing with the idea that life and death are of equal importance – and lands on its feet despite a slightly drawn-out ending. And Randall proves again she has a knack for finding brilliant new works, bringing deserving playwrights to a bigger audience, and showing that she can whip into insightful productions that leave one feeling as much as thinking.
dry bones rising by Cecelia Raker . Directed by Deborah Randall . Featuring Ann Fraistat, Erin Hanratty, and Allison Turkel . Lighting, Scenic Design; Set Construction: Amy Belschner-Rhodes . Sound Design: Neil McFadden . Props and Costumes Deborah Randall . Mask Maker: Tara Cariaso . FX Dummy: Vanessa Q. Levesque . Early Dramaturgical Guidance: Daniel Mori . Produced by Venus Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McNamara.