Fresh Eyes on FEATHERS & TEETH, 1st Installment
On Tuesday, FEATHERS AND TEETH rehearsals began, launching our journey into a crazy world of horror, grief, and laughter. This is an unusual play in that it's firmly couched in horror, a genre that is rarely explored on stage anymore. It’s full of supernatural events, hungry little beasts with feathers and teeth, a teenager who may not be seeing things as they truly are, and blood, lots of hot, sticky blood. And, oh yes, it’s funny too.
Our Fresh Eyes volunteers, Anthony Hudson and Elizabeth Tavares, joined us today for the first reading of the script and design presentations. Anthony is well known by his alternate persona, Carla Rossi, who among other appearances hosts Queer Horror at the Hollywood Theatre. Elizabeth teaches Shakespeare at Pacific University Oregon and is the Scholar-in-Residence for the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival. We’re thrilled to have their distinctive eyes in the room for FEATHERS AND TEETH!
Here are their observations from the first day of rehearsal:
As a drag clown-turned-wannabe-playwright and the programmer of a horror film series, I'm really excited for the horror bent with FEATHERS AND TEETH. I'm especially excited to see horror done on stage - to put horror on a stage is to kind of instantly legitimize it, because theatre is classy, you know? The audience isn't just teenagers sneaking into a matinee at the mall. People with money dress up for it. It's fancy.
That's part of the fun with this show - how will a fancy audience react to the sometimes hilarious, sometimes psychological horrors they witness? FEATHERS AND TEETH gleefully prickles with horror. From production design modeled after Rosemary's Baby and Tim Burton vibes to Gremlins-esque monsters brought to life via the assistant director's voice run through a sound modulator, I'm tickled to share in some spooky, campy fun in a theatrical setting.
And yet what most intrigues me about FEATHERS AND TEETH isn't the traditional horror elements at all. Certainly the underlying slow-burn paranoia akin to Rosemary's Baby belongs to horror, but it also adds to the realization of our teenage main character's simultaneously unreal and yet TOO REAL predicament. Being a kid, especially in genre films, is always about seeing something you shouldn't, or uncovering some wicked plot, while the adults never believe you or won't listen to begin with (look at Stranger Things, or Child's Play, or Gremlins, or Fright Night, or...). In this case the uncovered wicked plot may or may not levitate around the parents, and each character's life may or may not be in grave danger - so why is everyone more concerned with rock 'n roll records and cast-iron pots?
What's it like to watch the world unfurl while others pretend as though there's "nothing to see here?" Many of us are living that Cassandra of Troy fantasy in what is not so much our political climate as it is our fall of democracy as we know it. Many of us are actively learning and experiencing - on a national level - the concept of gaslighting, when an abuser makes the abused out to be crazy rather than owning any of their wrongdoing. What's most exciting - and hopefully relevant on stage - about FEATHERS AND TEETH is how much this show uses horror, paranoia, and even The Brady Bunch (including a very "Mrs. Brady" character named Carol, of course) to create a dark fairy tale about truth being replaced with darkness and confusion --- a darkness where, if you listen closely enough, you just may hear tiny teeth gnawing, gnawing, gnawing away at reality, desperate to slurp it down until nothing else is left. I can't wait to see how much of this real-world echo comes through in the actual staging of the piece - instead of just the "hey, this reminds me of our current dystopian hellscape" thoughts that fired through my head as the actors read their lines - because that's where the true horror in FEATHERS AND TEETH lives.
FEATHERS AND TEETH: Is it “a little ferret, a fox, or a rat”?
“The monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us.”
– Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”
The Brady Bunch meets Rosemary’s Baby. Tim Burton, Gremlins, Brooke Shields, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Homer, Leave It to Beaver, Federico García Lorca, Alice Cooper, Marc Chagall, That ‘70s Show: these were the popular references bouncing around the room at the first production rehearsal of Artist Repertory Theatre’s upcoming FEATHERS AND TEETH. In his opening address to the craftspeople and actors present, director Dámaso Rodriguez noted that Charise Castro Smith’s play is a kind of endangered species; it uses the conventions of horror to ends more subversive than the stylized, camp packaging might otherwise suggest. With its many cultural cross-pollinations, the current political climate, and contemporary audiences’ savvy when it comes to vampire, werewolf, and zombie narratives, I wonder whether this production will crystallize in focus or be seduced by the many rich palettes the genre of nightmare offers.
The Babadook meets Stranger Things. There is no doubt that the set, lighting, and costume combinations will be stunning. A stylized period kitchen (replete with that laminate we all remember) will be paired with locally-produced prints based on period art-house dress designs. What has the potential to productively trouble spectators’ sitcom-soaked sense of the 1970s American Midwest are the play’s “inappropriate noises.” After hearing the table-read of the script, I was struck by the number of ways in which the whimpering sounds of thirteen-year- old Christine, mourning her mother, are likened to the “equally revolting and adorable” beasties she keeps hidden in a cast-iron pot. This sonic cue seemed significant later when the family criticizes her two months of sullenness as “bizarre behavior,” as if grief was a kind of monster—black-eyed rather than green. I’ll be interested to see to what extent these soundscapes are linked with Chris’ emotional landscape.
HAMLET meets LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Based on the design pitches and the read-through, the question the play seems to be asking (at least on paper) in which I am most interested is the Gertrude question: What happens when your parent, your only parent, doesn’t take your side? The design of the show seems well on its way to summoning up a borderland made of light and shade. I wonder if the dynamism of the small cast of four will find a way to match it. Is it possible for a parent to choose someone else over kin? Is it natural? Or, do we smell a rat?