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!