There are these paradoxes: theatre, like movies, TV and major-publisher literature, is increasingly created by the young, to the extent that a writer for the Dramatist Guild’s magazine felt compelled to bravely suggest that good new plays could actually be written by playwrights over the age of 30. Yet theatre audiences are consistently and increasingly older.
And while arts and entertainment coverage in the local press is increasingly skewed to a young demographic (which is statistically less likely to read newspapers), Humboldt County’s population trends older.
But there are some attempts on local stages to address aspects of later life. For the past few seasons Ferndale Rep has produced a senior show, and brought this year’s play -- by Humboldt’s own Dave Silverbrand -- to the Eureka Theatre, where, not entirely coincidentally, the resident company called Sanctuary Stage is beginning a year-long project exploring issues of aging called “Shades of Grey.”
Dan Stone and Tinamarie Ivey, founders of Sanctuary Stage, together with the multi-talented Melissa Lawson and the omni-talented Gretha Omey, created the first show in this series, entitled Memories, on stage at the Eureka Theatre this weekend.
Memories is a theatrical mash-up of three plays that deal in different ways with the subject: Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and Lost by Mary Louise Wilson, bookended by slices of Beckett’s Come and Go. After interviews and interactions with seniors, the ensemble created this experimental work-in-progress, which uses masks, movement, light and music, as well as speech, to suggest the fluid logic of dreams and memories.
As Gretha Omey suggested in the talk-back after the first preview performance last weekend, experimental theatre is by its nature more open to individual impressions. So here are mine:
The basic staging of Omey on one side interpreting snippets of Krapp’s Last Tape, while Lawson and Ivey performed scenes from Lost on the other worked well to evoke two perspectives on the topic. On the one side, the tragic or at least melancholic outcome of a man’s dimly recalled recurrent illusions, obsessions, unfulfilled promise and other losses, are emphasized by Omey’s slowly eloquent gestures. On the other, the apparently farcical preparations of two high-spirited women (delightfully performed by Lawson and Ivey) getting ready for a night out, feature so many consecutive senior moments that it takes forever for them to get out the door. Yet there are absurdly comic aspects to Krapp (even more so in the full Beckett play), and poignancy in the ladies who are lost.
All three performers enliven the evocative masks created by Dan Stone, who also edited the texts and directed. In moments when the characters reverted to youth, the masks came off to reveal the person inside, who is always younger than proclaimed by the mask each is forced by age to wear. Lighting (by Dan Stone) and especially the music (composed by Dan Stone) were essential to the performance. The Eureka Theatre is a huge place, but all of these elements contributed to the success of this intimate experiment. Maybe it’s the product of a youth misspent in movie palaces, but I’m comfortable in that theatre. (Afterwards, the night sky outside was clear and Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were brightly visible -- none of them, as far as I know, by Dan Stone).
While I welcome attempts to explore the vagaries of aging, I don’t think theatre about the old or for older audiences needs to concentrate exclusively on what is lost or troublesome. It seems to me rather that what theatre and this society are losing is the irreplaceable perspective of those who have lived long enough to actually have perspective, and maybe even to have learned something.
Memories is at the Eureka Theatre this Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Aug. 7-9) at 8 p.m.
Back in 1996, Marilyn McCormick began her tenure as artistic director of the Ferndale Repertory Theatre with a production of Godspell, a musical that had a family connection: Her sister Gilmer, who followed her to study drama at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University), was in the original cast when her fellow tech student John-Michael Tebelek created it.
When Godspell moved to New York in 1971 with a new score, Stephen Reinhardt was hired as its musical director. That’s how he met Gilmer McCormick. Before long, he married her. So when Marilyn suggested that Godspell should also be her last show as artistic director, her sister and brother-in-law came up from Los Angeles to put it on. It starts this weekend.
Gilmer McCormick directs, Stephen Reinhardt choreographs, but there’s also lots of local talent involved, including the cast of Patrick Croft, Bob Beideman, Denim Ohmit, Anthony Hughes, Tina Beideman, Shannan Dailey, Laureen Savage, Monica Schallert, Erin Jones-Martin and Dion Davis. “It’s an excellent example of ensemble theatre," Reinhardt told me. “This group reminds me of the original -- all these wonderful kids, everyone contributing their talent to the whole. It’s very high energy, very funny, with totally infectious music -- even all these years later.”
But this musical based on aspects of the life of Christ as told in the Gospel of Matthew is “a transformative experience,” he said. “It’s reverent in its own way, and very honest about the gospels.”
Godspell is at Ferndale Rep Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. from Aug. 7 to Sept. 6, with matinees at 2 p.m. on Sundays.