Fresh Eyes on FEATHERS AND TEETH, 5th Installment
Opening Night has finally arrived for FEATHERS AND TEETH! And our terrific Fresh Eyes duo, Anthony Hudson and Elizabeth E. Tavares, joined us afterward for the backstage toast. We'd like to thank them both for their generosity of time and their smart, insightful observations on the rehearsals. They've have been watching the development of the show from the first read through, and if you haven't followed their journey, we recommend you look back at their postings -- especially if you haven't seen the show yet! Their observations will add a lot to your experience of the seeing this wonderfully horrific play!
We're in the green room immediately after curtain - we being the cast, the crew, and everyone who somehow touched this show. Luan was kind enough to pull Elizabeth and me back here with her.
"This is the awkward part," Luan says, "the awkward waiting before the toast." We're sit in silence, watching champagne and non-alcoholic Martinelli's pour out into plastic cups. Awkward as it may be, I'm happy to be back here, and not just for the champagne - I get to see and share that afterglow of artistic catharsis, the "We did it!" of a successful show.
Actors begin emerge from beyond the tomb of the dressing room - first little Dámaso, no longer dressed as an endearingly doomed boy scout, then Darius sans blood, then Sara, freshly showered and in a bathrobe, still wet and brushing hair, surrounded by four weeks' worth of colleagues. Finally Agatha emerges, stylishly dressed in all black with black lace leggings - it seems the old-soul intensity she emanates on stage extends to her fashion choices - and now everyone is gathered tightly in this little room just off the side of the stage. Director Dámaso begins the ritual toast, thanking everyone for their time and hard work.
"You all read this play and then decided to stay and work on this show even after that," he says, noting the technical challenges the show posed to a theatre "without the most state of the art technology" - challenges that may not have been solved until 30 minutes before showtime - plus that tricky-to-pin tone and the complex drama waiting to be mined from beneath the veneer of a seventies sitcom parody.
"The show's evolved a lot since you saw the preview on Tuesday," Dámaso says to me before the toast,preemptively saying what I meant to. Of course that preview was the first time the actors (and those technical cues) were thrust back into the show after the creative death that is tech week, and everything went more or less as it should, but the overall monster just wasn't fully alive. The electricity necessary to jolt that monster into being needed amped up. Little bits of blocking had to be axed and adjusted - maybe the Chinese food needed to be dumped on Carol instead of thrown from across the table. Some laughs had to become bigger while others needed to shrink. And maybe it's OK if the tone comes off mostly as a comedy, despite the darkness within - after all, some of the laughs happen only because that serious stuff, the blood and pain and terror, make us nervous and we don't know how to react otherwise. Sometimes you need a laugh after you've just seen someone you spent over an hour getting to know suddenly eaten alive.
Now we're back to the toast, and Dámaso turns to his actors. "You spent four weeks having to act on a green screen," he says. Everything was make-believe until this week when the necessary alchemy was achieved. And tonight the recipe was constructed just right. The actors successfully transformed themselves into other people. The blood spilled and flew just close enough to the audience. An animatronic pot voiced by a human woman became a family of adorably revolting monsters. The tech did exactly what it was supposed to do, all the way down to the exact nanosecond the smoke alarm's sound dies when Agatha pops its battery out. And the last magical ingredient - the audience - ate it all up.
I still have so many questions. What would happen if this show was staged with the gritty, trashy eye of Rob Zombie in mind rather than Tim Burton? What if the ending played out differently? What if a lighting cue or hand movement suggested someone wasn't all the way dead? Where does all that energy, that illusion, that lifeforce go once the lights have come down and the show has dissipated? And why the hell is my boyfriend - who's coming to the show with actual fresh eyes tonight, unlike mine - rooting for the wrong character? Her, really? Are you kidding me?! You don't even know the show like I do.
But that's an argument for later, over margaritas and tortas served questionably with french fries. Because right now we're in the green room, and we're about to toast to tonight's successfully-rendered witches' brew - a potion that must now be repeated seventeen more times into next the next month, each time with heart and soul and just the right kick of magic. We raise our plastic glasses and smile - cheers to opening night! - and with a sip, like that, the ritual is complete.
Feathers & Teeth: Grief and Other Beasties
“Oft have I heard that grief softens the mind,
And makes it fearful and degenerate;
Think therefore on revenge and cease to weep”
— William Shakespeare, 2 Henry IV
The main concern for me walking into opening night, having watched this production grow-up over the last month, was whether there would be any surprises left. What’s good about a horror story when the mystery is gone? I was happy to find that the splatter tactics still made me jump, and that my heartstrings were still tugged by the loss of a mother. When all the pieces came together, however, the greatest surprise of the evening was to realize where my loyalties lay at the last curtain. With Carol, mother of beasties.
At first, I wasn’t sure why I had landed in this place, sympathizing with a murderous stepmother. Every fairy tale and ghost story instructs us to run in the opposite direction, especially when food is involved. (HANSEL AND GRETEL. TITUS ANDRONICUS.) If the heart of the horror of this play hangs on its twisty resolution, I thought, then what kind of resolution is this? Theatre history tells us that comedies typically end in marriage, providing an image of procreative suitability that will continue to (literally) grow the community. The resolution to a comedy not only is a nifty bow to tie, but also suggests that this is a community, a set of values and personalities, worth continuing. Inversely, tragedies result in death and so suggest that, regardless of the merits of the protagonist, this is a model of a community irredeemably flawed. Carol, the ostensible antagonist, is engaged and pregnant by play’s end; Agatha, the heroine, meets another fate. By this logic, FEATHERS & TEETHseems to be asking its audiences to side with those “endangered species” our cultural myths have programmed us to otherwise shun.
If I was willing to accept Carol as a team to pick—as if to embrace Grendel’s Mother or Shakespeare’s Sycorax—then other thematic aspects of the play clicked into place. The pot of monsters belonged to her now-gone (adoptive?) parents, and so is simultaneously a site of mourning and monstrous birth. By this, the play suddenly becomes a network of bizarre griefs: Vietnam veteran Arthur’s replicating a dead spouse’s necklace for a new one; the neighboring World War II survivor who panics at every fire alarm; Chris’s incantatory missives to her mother, killed by breast cancer. If Carol’s pot is also a site of mourning, then each of these cases are of a piece, like variations on our inabilities to manage and accept one another’s rituals of loss. It also seems pertinent that each of the sources of grief except for Carol’s are products of modernity: machine and chemical warfare on the body and each other. By these choices, I was left feeling reflective on what is worthy about the society in which I live—and less quick to balk a possible coming age of beasties both “revolting and adorable.”