Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Giant Bones": A Magical Night at the Theater

On Friday night I went to see Giant Bones, the world premiere play based on a book of short stories by Peter S. Beagle, as adapted and directed by Stuart Bousel. (Disclosure: Stuart is a mover and shaker in the SF theater community and an acquaintance of mine, so I'm writing about this show because I want to support my friends, not because I fancy myself an objective theater critic.) Rumor has it that Beagle was convinced that no one could successfully adapt his stories into a coherent work of theater, then read Stuart's script and was absolutely floored! He lives in Oakland now, and lent his support and guidance to the production.

Stuart's brilliant idea was to use the old device of a play-within-a-play to tell multiple stories in one evening. When we watch Giant Bones, we are ostensibly watching a performance by the "Jiril's Players," a traveling theater troupe in some medieval-ish fantasy kingdom. In Act I, the Players perform three different fairy-tale-like stories, and we also get to eavesdrop on some of their backstage goings-on. In Act II, the Players enact their own story, telling how they lost their royal patronage and were forced out on the road.

My parents were in town this weekend, so they were my theatergoing companions at Giant Bones, and they both really enjoyed it--even my mom, who normally hates anything fantasy or sci-fi. But, as I said, the stories in Act I are mostly in the vein of fairy tales, the kinds of stories that we all enjoyed as children: wizards, wicked tyrants, talking fish, tribes of giants. And the story in Act II, being a tale of political intrigue and courtiers' maneuverings, doesn't involve any magical elements at all. Instead, it becomes a moving parable about the power of theater and how it can be used and abused. I know, there are a lot of plays about plays out there, and sometimes it can seem like an overdone topic. But not when it is really well done--written, staged and performed by people who truly do know and love the power of theater--the way that Giant Bones is.

The Jiril is played by the commanding Jay Smith, and his Players are a troupe of nine talented actors who easily take on multiple parts. I especially liked Jessica Rudholm's expressive use of gesture in her role as a wicked queen, and Rik Lopes' self-assurance in the role of Dardis, the manager and star actor of the theater troupe. Kai Morrison amuses as he plays an assortment of villains, and also composed the song that opens Act II.

Giant Bones continues at the Exit Theater through June 19. As an added perk, everyone who attends the performance will receive (in a few months) a special limited-edition copy of Beagle's book Giant Bones. Amazing! I've never attended any other theater production that offered such a special tie-in souvenir--and believe me, this play has made me curious to read the rest of Beagle's stories!

Here is a promo video where Stuart and some of the cast discuss their work on this production. Congrats to them!


Dr.J said...

It sounds a bit like Hamlet, or rather Rosencratz and Guildestern.
Good news from Spain, there are currently two shows about Beckett in Madrid. One of them is an italian version Finale di partita, and the other a spanish one based on Beckett´s life and plays. Of course this leads to the topic of public money in theatre. Madrid City Council has a debt of about one billion euros (whatever it means is unknown to me, anything beyond 200 euros utterly escapes me), so is it moral to support this events with more public money, i.e. more debt for future citizens? the matter is open to discussion. Dr.J

Marissa said...

Definitely open to discussion--I was just talking about something similar the other day. I read that the city of San Francisco might buy a big bronze sculpture and install it in the central plaza. On the one hand, that would be really cool--on the other hand, I wish they'd put that money toward fixing our public transportation system, which just keeps getting worse and worse! As you know, I am jealous of the way that European local and national governments support the arts; on the other hand, we hear that this way of life is not sustainable...

peter said...
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Anonymous said...
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Skinnyd said...

Hi Marissa,

I'm member of sleepwalkers theatre. I've been following your blog since you wrote your piece of Tim Bauer's Zombie Town last year.

I just read your post on Giant Bones after reading Tim's that mentions yours. I know Stuart a little (who doesn't in this community).

Actually do we know each other? Hmmm...

Anyways I'm posting this comment because I want to send you some comps and tell you about our next season which will be a huge trilogy of plays about the end of the world.

I can't figure out how to contact you though so I'm posting a comment. Feel free to erase it but please email me at so I can send you some stuff.


- Damian Lanahan-Kalish
Sleepwalkers Theatre

Marissa said...

Thanks Damian! Check your email!