Women’s rituals, eco-spirituality, shamanism, and Celtic wisdom are the themes in Sandra Kammann’s self-produced offering for the Women’s Voices in Theater Festival.
The unabashed celebration of the Feminine is a “strand” in the tapestry of women’s writings and in other art forms that we might expect to see in a women’s festival – and yes, it’s important point of view to articulate. For some it might feel at times déjà vu; for others it serves as a community affirmation of the power of storytelling and ritual to bring about reconciliation and a healing of Earth.
Duir-wyyd: The Dreamer’s Journey is an exploration into the “Gaia” principle and systems work of ecologists, social anthropologists, and psychologists that came to importance in the 1970’s. Kammann’s socio-anthropology background and passion are strongly in evidence throughout this ninety-minute work. We were present at the first showing of this world premiere. The play is still being discovered.
The work opens with a mother and her teenage daughter sharing a small makeshift bedroom in some undisclosed transitional halfway or rooming house in the nation’s capital. Boxes are piled around.
Clearly the two women are in a financially precarious position. The little details of the toothbrush glass that must be carried down the hall to the shared bathroom, the fight with the cockroach, the death of pet hamster Phoebe that they have carried with them as part of their family to establish “normalcy,” are carefully drawn. Claire is preparing to go on a field trip with her art teacher and there’s a mother-daughter tussle about safety vs. teenage autonomy. The scene is strongly written and ably played by Carol Spring (Mother) and Madison Middleton (Daughter Claire.)
Scene two abruptly transitions to a fairy-tale world. After an inordinately long set change, the audience is transported to a glade in a primordial woods. Center stage a vision appears of a beautiful Faerie with golden tresses plucking the strings of a harp, her bare feet curling over its base as if stroking a live instrument. Two creatures in masks, which the program tells us are a doe and fawn, gambol around her. This wordless scene is magically mystical and beautifully lit by designer Alexa Zanikos.
What follows, making up the meat of the work, is a story about a community of Druid practitioners whose members are being slaughtered and scattered by the imperialistic Romans. Middleton reappears as a young girl whose mother has just been killed. She has become separated from her last surviving sister, and has survived by banding with a rag-taggle group of other Druids.
DUIR-WYYD: The Dreamer’s Doorway
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
October 24- November 1, 2015
1 hour 30 minutes
October 24 – 25
Silver Spring Black Box Theatre
8641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD
October 31 – November 1
Spooky Action Theater
1810 16th Street N.W.
Washington , D.C.
Details and Tickets
Unfortunately, this section of the play suffers from Kammann’s vast knowledge of ancient history and Druidic culture that weighs down the light evocative style that she sets up in the first two scenes. Instead of being dramatically driven through character conflict, a potential conflict flickers and then gets dispersed in what some people might refer to as “Kumbaya-feely” moments. Rather than using ritual to maintain a kind of rigorous economy to evoke mystery and transport, too much is explained. In fact, so much is talked about – from Druid-Roman history to parallels between druidic and Aramaic-early Christian beliefs – that the energy of the piece somewhat bleeds out and we lose the heightened experience of being inside a dramatic work.
Afterwards, Kammann shared that she is trying to discover a new genre of dramatic style and asked specifically for feedback. In a hall filled with friends and well-wishers, there was clearly a lot of support for this kind of performance offering. But if I were to make suggestions it would be to create a central conflict on stage to engage the characters fully and give the work a dramatic spine. I would also encourage Kammann to display her choreographic skills more, especially in the transitions, to incorporate ritual into the transportation backwards and forwards in time and space. Floating boxes and sprinkling of leaves into a Faerie ring would have sustained the flow of the piece. As it was, on first night, transitions had not yet been fully worked out.
Many of the best moments of the play featured music, clearly another passion of Kammann, who composed some of the songs and added lyrics. The actors all displayed lovely voices, and the keys and harmonies supplied by Carol Spring as Music Consultant showed this ensemble off to great advantage. Traditional Gaelic songs are so compelling and it was a joy to hear them also incorporated. Mary Abbott, the harpist, added much to the piece; the instrument itself is so magical that it was a pity that only one song was played on stage. Music also featured Spring as fiddler, and the toe-tapping dance sequences left me wanting more from these nimble-footed performers.
The gorgeous willow tree designed by Margaret A. Howard was a lovely feature that stayed displayed throughout, linking past and present “Druidism.” I believe this flowing of time and space might have also been enhanced by the harpist and instrument re-emerging on stage. The costumes of the Druid world by Margaret A. Howard made for strong stage compositions in their beautiful autumnal palette.
Carol Spring is a sympathetic modern-day mother and easily transforms into a compelling Druid practitioner who directs her fellows through a crisis by persuading them to take the longer historical view. Lilian Oben delivers a striking performance as a female-warrior Druid. Madelyn Farris and Vanessa Nolan perform their human roles and dance as various woodland spirits with grace. A. J. Calbert and Craig Allen make good male partners in this “quest” for a restoration of old ways and to bring us into a new eco-spiritual era, but I see some dramatic opportunities missed which would give these men more dimension and satisfying emotional arcs for their characters.
The young actress Madison Middleton, still in high-school, displayed a remarkable talent as both a singer and an actress. She carries the show ably and makes believable the coming-of-age part of the story of both a young Druid girl and a contemporary young woman. Her struggle to come into her own without hurting further her grieving and vulnerable mother was sensitively portrayed.
The Black Box Theatre in Silver Spring is this week’s venue. Next week the work resurfaces at Spooky Action on 16th Street. Get there on October 31 or November 1 for a little white magic this season. If you are a follower of the oak, holly, ash, and willow, you will feel supremely at home and uplifted.
Duir-wyyd: The Dreamer’s Doorway conceived, written and directed by Sandra Kammann . Featuring Mary Abbott, Craig Allen, A.J. Calbert, Madelyn Farris, Madison Middleton, Vanessa Nolan, Lilian Oben, Carol Spring . Set Design: Margaret A Howard, Romula Hawthorne, and Sandra Kammann . Lighting Design: Alexa Zanikos . Costume Design and Props: Margaret A. Howard . Music Consultant: Carol Spring . Produced by Sandra Kammann . Reviewed by Susan Galbraith