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Skinwalkers

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Murray Mednick

COMPANY : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 1178

SHOWING : January 27, 2005 - February 20, 2005

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Combining classic ghost story tropes and Native American mysticism, this poetic drama focuses on a modern couple coming to terms with the unbalance in their lives.


CAST & CREW LIST
props designer Elisabeth Cooper
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REVIEWS

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A Script Out-of-Balance
by Dedalus
Monday, February 21, 2005
2.0
Let me preface these thoughts by admitting that I was predisposed to dislike this play. Advance word promised it would be a combination of ghost story tropes and Native American spirituality. Whenever I hear that phrase “Native American Spirituality,” all my critical thinking defenses pop up, bad memories of Carlos Castaneda’s books sharpening their eagle claws on my objectivity.

Sure enough, in Murray Mednick’s “Skinwalkers,” we’re given a shaman character named Don Jose who is every bit as superior and arrogant and full of hokey “wisdom” as anything Castaneda came up. We’re also given “straw man” Anglo characters who exist more as props for the playwright’s trendy philosophizing than as representatives of anyone remotely human. Worse still, we’re given two different endings, both of which are arbitrarily melodramatic, neither of which move us to feel anything but relief that this barrage of pure bulls%^&*t is finally over.

In spite of my overly-generous 2-star rating, I really REALLY disliked this play.

And yet, there are the seeds of many potentially good and moving plays buried under all the crap. To begin with, the main characters, Tom and Myra, are (or should have been) people at a critical stage of their lives – Tom is haunted by the grisly death of a close friend and the guilt that goes along with not preventing it. Myra is haunted by a near accident and what she thinks she saw. They are making a documentary about Native American “Skinwalkers,” ghosts who try to take over leaving people. They are having trouble communicating, clumsily shown us by having them converse facing us directly. These should have been real people with real problems that could have been examined in a realistic (or even artfully poetic) manner. Instead, they are blithely dismissed by Don Jose and the playwright as arrogant people who can’t achieve any happiness until they acknowledge the spirit world that is unseen and exists alongside our own. How trendy! How boring! It’s interesting that Don Jose never acknowledges that his own statements are as smugly arrogant as anything Tom and Myra do or say.

Another plot element has a local highway being widened to handle truck traffic to a nearby government nuclear waste dump. It’s being stalled due to the uncovering of an ancient burial site. It’s mentioned that this site was actually a garbage dump, and the bones were the victims of cannibalism. But then it’s dropped. A bombshell like that, which blows apart the alleged superiority of Native American culture and “wisdom,” is treated like an irrelevancy. This is the point where I became really angry with the script.

And what are we to make of Aurora? She is a new-age friend of Myra’s who spouts more inanities than Don Jose, all of which are accepted unquestioningly by Myra. (The "Skinwalkers" enter the living through "cracks in our auras?" Please…) She’s described as “half native,” but the fresh-faced, red-haired appearance of actress Rachel Mewbron makes it look as if her closest Native American relative is a DVD of “Dances With Wolves.” She poses throughout as if she were about to start a Tai Chi exercise, but can’t make up her mind which direction to go. She could have functioned as a parody of Don Jose if everyone didn’t take her so gosh-darned seriously.

Also on hand are Myra’s wealthy parents, a local ranch hand who likes to collect arrowheads, and a blind bartender, who … well, it’s never made clear exactly who he is or why we should care what he says – he’s just someone else to tell Tom and Myra how worthless and irrelevant they are.

A while ago, there was a movie called “Koyaanisqatsi – Life out of Balance” which supposedly underscored how civilization is bad and nature is good; while watching it, I couldn’t help thinking how dead and sterile the nature scenes were, and how intriguing the speeded up “out of balance” civilization scenes were. My “New Age” friends, of course, accused me of “not getting it.”

In spite of all this, the play is a well-designed, and, for the most part, interestingly-performed production (hence my inflated rating). I especially liked Maia Knispel’s body language as Myra, Pierre Brulatour’s boyish enthusiasm as Myra’s father Sidney, and Normando Ismay ironic remove as Don Jose. I did find Daniel Pettrow’s (Tom) habit of throwing his arms straight out every time he hears voices in his head very irritating and it grew very old very quickly. But the script proved to be what was out-of-balance, substituting contrived pseudo-poetry for dialog, straw caricatures for characters, crackpot philosophizing for real emotion, and shallow trendiness for cutting edge ideas. Or maybe I “just don’t get it.”


--- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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