I’m no believer in astrology or the arcane arts. And a production that bills itself as part vaudeville, part carnival ride? The last thing I expected was to be moved to tears. But that’s what happened Sunday night at Evening Star Cafe.
Tarot Reading III sounds like a light evening of improv like Comedy Sports but with faux gypsies wearing coin-bedecked scarves. So I can be forgiven for thinking that the performance was just going to be a light riff on astrology and medieval cards with titles like Death, The Sage, and The Tower. It turned out to be so much more.
To begin with, when you purchase a ticket, you choose between being a Seeker and a Witness. Seekers are more participatory; it’s their cards that are used as springboards for the Mediums. But the twist is that you aren’t told that you will live to be 101, or marry well or win the lottery. No. The performers bring you their true stories.
The honesty and bravery of some of the performances is striking: themes of fertility, grief, gender identity, love, joy, and harmony using the real stories of each performer, is alternately funny, poignant, and genuinely heartwrenching. It isn’t merely storytelling: for The Chariot card, talented Gwen Grasdorf (a cast member of Happenstance Theater Company) wove multiple characters into an exploration of one’s lack of control, using merely a length of rope. Tiny people swung from tightropes, tragic accidents occurred, and, yes, a chariot ride of the gods.
Each Medium has but three or four minutes to devote to their assigned cards, and to a degree, there is a script- or at least a guideline- of sorts, and it’s funniest when it goes off the tracks. Medium Niusha Nawab met a fellow theater stagehand in The Sage– exclaiming, “Hey, I know you!” – then explaining to us all that they were in an accident together. Medium Jon Jon Johnson taught us about Sacrifice, whilst playing the violin beautifully, and when the CD player failed to work for another segment, the audience unanimously called for Mr Johnson to furnish the rest of the evening’s music. Miss Buffy Wilde, talented comic and drag queen Joshua Kelley made us both laugh and cry as she described her journey while carefully making up a gentleman in a beard. He looked pretty good afterwards, despite the purple wig ‘that had been through it all’, according to Ms Wilde.
Having signed up as a Seeker without really knowing what it entailed, I drew the Harmony card; the irony is, since the passing of my mother a few months ago, there hasn’t been much harmony in my life. My personal Medium was Allyson Harkey, who brought out a sewing box brimming with yarn and knitting supplies. Our five minutes was spent knitting together as she told us of her grandfather’s death and his bequest to her of the box and all his unfinished projects.
The Tarot Reading III
closes October 15, 2017
Details and tickets
It’s a tradition of The Tarot reading for the Medium to give the Seeker a gift at the end. I received a book on how to knit, some knitting needles, and a colorful skein of yarn. My mother, an accomplished knitter, must have knit thousands of items in her lifetime, yet in my own life I’ve only knit a single purple scarf. Now that I own all her unfinished projects too, a multicolored hat seems to be a good place to start.
To say this is participatory theatre is a weak term for the evening. Think of a 1960s Happening, or a Grateful Dead concert, even a good ol’ religious service, or a laid back night with friends, an open bar, much laughter and a few tears. In other words, a precious experience that occasionally gives you an unexpected gift.
The Tarot Reading III . Directed by Quill Nebeker, Alan Katz and Joan Cummins . Cast: Alan Katz as The Fool, Mediums: B’Ellana Duquesne; Gwen Grastorf (with a T, not a D); Allyson Harkey; Jon Jon Johnson; Michael ‘Carino Valentine’ Moya; Nuisha Nawab; Miss Buffy Wilde (Joshua W. Kelley). Stage Manager: Allison Poms . Production Manager and Props Designer: Cody Whitfield . Casting: Jon Jon Johnson . Produced by Quill Nebeker and Alan Katz . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.
Note: Jon Jon Johnson and Alan Katz are staff writers for DC Theatre Scene. This did not affect the review.