The final two plays that concluded the Alive Theatre’s second Cherry Poppin’ Festival confirmed what a unique undertaking the whole thing was.
While both stories dealt with cosmological issues that represented choices we humans have to make, they couldn’t be any more different. One dealt with the bottom line of compassion, the other dealt with whether ends justify means. One was tightly structured, with an amazing premise. The other was more of a road trip to Burning Man.
But both – and the whole Festival, as well – created a focal point for creative, generational energy. There were art shows, live music before each play, and the dramatic work of contemporary playwrights staged by young actors. The theatre was packed each time I was there. There was a buzz. It was a place to be as well as a place to go.
The Festival created a synergy. It stood as a positive experience. It generated creativity by association (writers, artists, actors), it defined (and is defining) a period. Sure, some of the work missed the mark; but that didn’t prevent its authors, its producers and directors, from swinging the hammer.
And oh when they nailed it!
The Festival reminded me of those early 20th century Dada events at the Cafe Voltaire in Zurich. Amidst an atmosphere of World War One Anything Goes, voices rang out, alliances were forged, -isms were tested. It was Alive, and it was raw. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty; but is was exuberant and rang true with a Right Here, Right Now. It was art, it was politics but, mostly, it was freedom as war raged.
“The Mother of God Visits Hell,” by Daniel Gluyton, directed by Sylvia Bush, was just ducky. The story captivates you. It has a premise that is delectable to the nth degree. The actors pulled it off in spades.
Mary (Calli Dunaway) defies God (Eric Ruiter) her Father, her Son, and moseys down to hell to minister to the damned. She makes a deal with Satan (Paul Knox) to stay down there so the damned can leave (Would Janine Garofalo do the same thing for the prisoners at Guantonomo?). Mary does just what Christ did, the ultimate self-sacrifice. Satan does what he does best. He deceives. In so doing, she inspires God to show a little compassion. He does but only after realizing that mother knows best.
The acting draws you in. Calli Dunaway’s Mary was an inspired performance. Not only does she have to be meek, humble, and virginal, she has to also show some moxy to pull off this Mother Teresa act. Dunaway captures all that.
Eric Ruiter, who plays God, has that same “Okay, yeah, I’m the Almighty but while I’m up here I might as well have some fun” attitude that Christopher Walken has in the Fatboy Slim “Weapon of Choice” video. He’s omnipotent but he’s also not a little vain.
Ditto for Knox’s Devil.
The Stratovolcanoe, by Aaron Van Geem, directed by Robert Edward, was a perfect way to end the Festival.
The story’s simple. It began as a parable and ended up as a concert. It’s not like they’re making a Faustian deal. No it’s just that, damned or angelic, they’re just sampling the depths of inspiration.
A quartet of musicians (John Douglass, Raymond Lee, Jill Taylor, and Van Geem) ask the Devil (Andrew Eiden) to help them find their lost heart. After a nifty little trip through a landscape that looks like a print ad for tequila (plus, there’s a Little Mexican Boy – Carina Clemente – serving as their Dantean Beatrice), they find their heart and break out into an extended song that makes you think of the long, long conclusion of The Beatles’s “Hey Jude.”