Puppet Drama, Crooked Hedda, Car Plays – WoW!

Seafoam Sleepwalk James Bond Puppet Drama

With homages to James Bond and JAWS, and a Jackie Chan paddle battle in the middle, Basil Twist’s new puppet presentation “Seafoam Sleepwalk” gives birth to a giant Aphrodite on La Jolla Shores Beach.

The magical piece is part of WoW, the site-specific Without Walls Festival at multiple sites surrounding the UC San Diego campus, that runs through Sunday.

"Seafoam Sleepwalk" is presented in the surf at La Jolla Shores.

“Seafoam Sleepwalk” is presented in the surf at La Jolla Shores.

I quickly made friends with someone who knew the campus, Lily Bartenstein.  She’s a scenic designer in her second year of graduate school. We hopped on the shuttle bus – the only two riders on it- and within minutes were standing on the sand with surfers and Twist’s technical crew.

“They asked people to be on the crew,” Bartenstein said. “To be considered they asked, ‘Do you own a wet suit?’”

Think of the beach as the stage and the water as the edge, with camouflage humps on stage left and stage right. Sound equipment was set up on a small riser at the water’s edge and behind us on the sea wall.

A very nimble Mr. Twist ran back and forth, a crowd gathered, and a red lifeguard truck drove right over the electrical cables and stopped.  After a brief discussion, they left, and soundscape designer Yumiko Tanaka signaled to her partner with a guitar on the wall.

Sounds of radio scramble, drums, and ominous strings, evoked thoughts of the film JAWS, but also injected secret agent drama into the process of assembling a giant puppet in a moving ocean.

A stout man was tasked with planting a tripod in the water, which is nearly mission impossible. More people carried out shapeless fabrics and before our eyes, a giant head rose up out of the water.  Her eyes blinked. Her head turned left and right slightly.

Tanaka, dressed in Asian garb and big red sunglasses, played wildly on something, perhaps an amplified autoharp.  Her partner on the wall sent out electric country western rhythms.  Here’s the curious thing: the score influenced our feelings for the puppet.  She became a Doris Day Goddess during the romantic songs, “…I am living in a daydream, I’m as happy as a queen…”

Twist does his history homework. Aphrodite means “arisen from the foam” in ancient Greek. The Goddess is known for her elegance, curled eyelashes, and lovely face. Twist’s puppet is that, and her body has a fish-scale texture. She also gave birth to the winged Cupid of love, which explains the golden Cupids on poles that fly out to greet her.

Twist’s giant Goddess rising out the surf made the front page of the newspaper today, so I don’t feel badly about describing that part of the installation. But there are more surprises in “Seafoam” inspired by mythology and cheesy Sci-Fi films. Go see them for yourself. Showtimes: Thu/Fri/Sat/Sun at 1 pm and 3 pm, and it’s free.

Crooked HEDDA’ING and Crazed Norwegians

I’ve always wanted to visit the “Fallen Star” rooftop sculpture on the UC San Diego campus. It opened in 2011. What luck to also experience edgy dance theater inside the crooked cottage, perched precariously on the seventh floor of Jacobs Hall.

"HEDDA'ING" is performed at Fallen Star a curious rooftop sculpture seven stories up.

“HEDDA’ING” is performed at Fallen Star, a curious rooftop sculpture seven stories up.

In “HEDDA’ING,” Sam Mitchell, a UC San Diego MFA candidate, teams with artists Siri Jondtvedt and Snelle Hall of Norway to mess with your head and equilibrium.  The heart of the work is the site itself.  Step off the elevator and you discover a quaint garden and little house.

Without giving too much away, know that furniture and personal items appear normal. But it’s a trick. Everything is off-kilter, crooked. That environment rocks your senses and footing. If you can’t tolerate a sailboat or carnival ride, this may not be for you.

The performance explores the “polarities between the role of home as a sanctuary and as a prison.” Viewers can search for references to Ibsen’s play “Hedda Gabler,” or not. There are chilling screams, seizures, slamming doors, and manuscripts strewn about.  The performers babble in Norwegian, which tickled my ears and made me think of my grandparents.

The big thrill though, is the how the crooked environment effects the body, and the intensity of viewing the dance in close proximity to the artists.  This is crazy fly on the wall theater. The choreography magnifies the strange architecture, yet our resilient brains eventually adjust to it.

Up close, and crooked, this is exciting site-specific dance theater. Test your equilibrium: Thur/Fri/Sat/Sun at 2:30, 3 pm, 3:30 pm, & 4 pm. No seating provided. Shuttle is available.

The Car Plays: San Diego where you are the voyeur

The WoW festival is an extension of the La Jolla Playhouse’s experimental program that started in 2011. The site-specific program has included several exciting productions, including “The Car Plays.”

"The Car Plays: San Diego" features intimate ten-minute plays, each taking place in a car.

“The Car Plays: San Diego” features intimate ten-minute plays, each taking place in a car.

For the festival, the Playhouse brings back several of the original vignettes and also commissioned new ones from local playwrights.

All of the plays take place in a parked car, and the audience watches from inside. It’s a hilarious commentary on our California car culture, and each play is a snapshot peering into the private lives of very different people.

On opening day, every show was soldout, but timing was in my favor. I just happened to be standing by the “Car Plays” tent, and there were two no-shows. A woman named Charlene – who was also hoping for a ticket – and I ran to the line of cars and hopped in Vehicle #1.

Here’s how it works. There are two rows of cars, each with five cars parked in a line.  Two audience members get into the back seat, or front, or split up. A 10-minute play unfolds, and then friendly carhops open your door and guide you into the next car.

It’s amazing how personal the plays are. You feel like a hitchhiker, or a voyeur, listening in on a range of discussions. Some are silly and mundane.  Others are surreal and touch on deadly serious things.

The audience often plays a role.  I was asked to make a phone call, and that’s all I’m sharing.  And it can be unnerving to sit so close to the action. But Charlene and I loved the proximity and how that challenged our comfort levels. She looked at me, I looked at her, and we just went along for the ride.

Directed and created by Paul Stein, all of the plays are provocative and filled with surprises.  Spoiler alert:  In one of the plays, the characters are dogs, panting, waiting for their masters to return. Another has a couple so obsessed with their cell phones that they don’t realize there are two strangers in the backseat till the end.

Other plays are mysterious.  In the line of cars across from us, Charlene and I caught a glimpse of a dead body being shoved into the trunk. The windows are blurred with plastic wrap, but we couldn’t help peeking.

Charlene and I had never met before. But here we were, partners in these five, strange encounters. We weren’t always sure how to respond. Were we observers? Could we laugh out loud?  The actors let you know, and  really, you just watch and wing it.

“The Car Plays” is the ultimate roadtrip. If you can get your paws on a single ticket, go.  You might make a new friend like I did. Hi Charlene.  Hope your daughter is feeling better.  Reenactments: Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 4 pm, 5:30 pm, 8 pm, & 9:30 pm.

WoW, Without Walls 2013 Festival runs Oct. 3-6, 2013. Wowfestival.org.




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