Six feet over

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - Jonathan Richards For The New Mex­i­can

High Is­land on Galve­ston Bay is just a stone’s throw from where a mas­sive oil pipe­line leak is stran­gling the coast­line of the Gulf of Mex­ico, threat­en­ing the fish­ing in­dus­try and bird and ma­rine wildlife.

“It’s one of the prime spots for bird-watch­ing in the coun­try — less than 30 miles from the Louisiana border,” play­wright Da­mon Falke said when Pasatiempo reached him by phone last week at a book­store in Mar­shall, Texas. “High Is­land Ceme­tery is ba­si­cally the place I have in mind.”

That ceme­tery is the set­ting for Falke’s play The Sun Is in the West, a new work to be pre­sented this week­end by Santa Fe Per­form­ing Arts in a co-pro­duc­tion with the Colorado-based Square Top Reper­tory The­atre at The Ar­mory for the Arts Theater. The play is a mood piece in which three iso­lated char­ac­ters re­flect on the in­ci­dents, loved ones, and mem­o­ries that make up who they are and where they have been.

Why a ceme­tery? “I see it as a good place to be quiet,” he said. “I live next door to a ceme­tery. I watch peo­ple all the time walk up there just to be quiet, and the way the world is now, it’s prob­a­bly the only time in their lives when they can be quiet.”

The char­ac­ters in the play are a pho­tog­ra­pher (Felicia Meyer), a his­to­rian (Geoff John­son), and the groundskeeper (Sean Down­ing). They share the stage with a gui­tarist (Dave Seaton), who strings the play to­gether with mu­si­cal in­ter­ludes. The char­ac­ters keep to them­selves, as peo­ple are apt to do in such places. Falke dis­cussed how the sep­a­rate roles func­tion in the play.

“The groundskeeper is will­ing to come set­tle him­self in his mem­o­ries,” Falke said. “He knows what he’s held on to is valu­able. The pho­tog­ra­pher [a young woman who has lost her par­ents in a high­way ac­ci­dent] is less con­fi­dent. And the his­to­rian is in the mid­dle. He’s be­gin­ning his search of what’s valu­able, dig­ging out the facts, so to speak.”

There’s no spec­i­fied ac­tion in the script. Falke has writ­ten only the words his char­ac­ters say, with­out stage di­rec­tions or de­scrip­tion. On the printed page, we only know we’re in a grave­yard by what the char­ac­ters tell us. “I put ab­so­lutely noth­ing in it other than the words,” the play­wright said. “I think that leaves it very much open for the di­rec­tor and who­ever is in­volved with the play to have their own artis­tic ex­pe­ri­ence pro­duc­ing it.”

There’s also no di­a­logue. The play un­folds in a se­ries of al­ter­nat­ing mono­logues in which the char­ac­ters rem­i­nisce and ex­plore their lives. There’s an ele­giac qual­ity, a sense of look­ing at the past to make sense of the present and to pre­pare for the fu­ture.

“Look­ing back­ward, the way my char­ac­ters do, you have this sum­mary of where you’ve come from and what has made up your life,” Falke mused. “I think you can piece all those dif­fer­ent parts into some­thing whole, and you can be com­fort­able with what you’ve be­come. But what I’d like to be­lieve is that at the end of it, there’s a kind of lean­ing, that what you have held on to has in some way made you whole. You can lean for­ward by lean­ing back­ward.”

Re­cently, the Texan vis­ited an old friend who is dy­ing of can­cer. “The last hour we spent to­gether, we looked at pic­tures of his mama and daddy,” Falke said. “I think he looks at them and says, ‘ These are the peo­ple I loved; I hope they have filled my life, and ... I can look back at them and feel at peace with who I am.’ I find that very mov­ing.”

For Falke, pre­serv­ing things is cru­cial. “I’m al­ways in­ter­ested in what a per­son can save. Facts some­times can be a lit­tle lim­it­ing. They can put a limit on who we are; they can con­tain us more than we want to be con­tained. It’s a ques­tion that stirs in me: What can we save? A good any­thing tends to res­onate, tends to spi­ral out a bit, you know what I mean? If you look at a pot­tery chip from Chaco Canyon, it can be a cou­ple of things. It can be a pot­tery chip, with mark­ings on it that re­flect a cer­tain pe­riod and a par­tic­u­lar cul­ture, or it can be made by some­one, and who knows how they made it and what they were think­ing when they made it.”

The Square Top Reper­tory pro­duc­tion of The Sun Is in the West in Santa Fe is a home­com­ing of sorts for sev­eral of the par­ties in­volved. Square Top’s pro­duc­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor, Charles Pepi­ton, and his wife, pub­lic re­la­tions and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Re­bekah Wilkins-Pepi­ton, met in Santa Fe some years ago. Charles has di­rected this pro­duc­tion, and Re­bekah de­signed the set, ex­er­cis­ing her imag­i­na­tion on the de­scrip­tive tab­ula rasa of Falke’s script.

“She’s cre­ated a set that sort of does what the text does, ex­cept it does it vis­ually,” Pepi­ton said. “It’s in­com­plete with­out the text and with­out the per­for­mances. It’s the­atri­cal, some­thing that only live theater can do. It’s def­i­nitely re­strained — it’s min­i­mal­ist. The de­sign is sand, an old chair, and three pan­els that are sort of a Pop-art trip­tych.”

Falke is a grad­u­ate of St. John’s Col­lege. He has never seen one of his plays fully mounted on a stage, but he’ll get his chance this week­end when he comes back to his old col­lege town. “One of my old pro­fes­sors at St. John’s used to write stuff and just stick it in a drawer,” Falke said. “It would be nice to have that kind of artis­tic in­dif­fer­ence, but I guess I don’t. I guess I re­ally do hope peo­ple like it. I want it to strike a chord; there’s no shame in that.”

Santa Fe Per­form­ing Arts has a his­tory of putting on new plays. “We’ve had a com­mit­ment to new plays for many years,” said Ni­cholas Sa­bato, head of Santa Fe Per­form­ing Arts. “We’ve been do­ing them since we were in our old space — a good 16 years. When Char­lie con­tacted me about this play, we were ex­cited to co-pro­duce it be­cause of that com­mit­ment.”

On Square Top’s web­site, there’s this bit of de­scrip­tive prose: “The pro­duc­tion blends Old World story-telling while ex­plor­ing the bound­aries of mod­ern the­atri­cal­ity.” Asked what the bound­aries of mod­ern the­atri­cal­ity were, Falke laughed. “That’s not a good ques­tion for me; that’s not any­thing I would say, be­cause I’m not cer­tain what that is. I’m pretty down to earth.”

Ground level is a good per­spec­tive to have, when a lot of your sub­ject mat­ter lies six feet be­neath it.

Lead­ing a ceme­tery life: from left, Felicia Meyer, Sean Down­ing, and Geoff John­son

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.