Live theatre doesn’t just tell a story, it makes us live it.
In Death Play, solo artist Lisa Dring (with her offstage collaborators) does just that. And surprisingly. Because her story is about the ways death has entered — and transformed — her life.
But she’s obviously young and vibrant. What can she know of death? Well, hers is no heroic tale of fighting a dread disease that invaded her youth. Her congenital “illness” — what’s made her vulnerable to death’s incursions — is one we all share. She was born into a family.
And death — shattering her expectations — early began plucking away that family. Before she was 30, both her parents and her grandmother were gone. Each death shocked her, and each taught her things she had not imagined she’d need to learn.
Dring’s tale is rich in the particulars of her many-sourced heritage, yet each detail has a universal ring. By opening her highly individual dance with death to us, and inviting us in, she makes us feel the breath of the Grim Reaper, intimately close, in our own lives.
Just as death shocked her, Dring and her crew shock us. Kirk Smith’s set startles us with a fantasy in white (no black moods here), and his chthonic time machine is an unsettling delight. Clad in outfits half diaphanous and half street-practical (by Ann Closs-Farley), with sounds far more whimsical than dirge-like (by Jeff Gardner), our narrator- protagonist leaps, whirls, falls and kneels, seemingly free of the gravity of grief.
Yet her losses do reach into us, as they have into her, and we share the awful vertigo of being cut loose from what had felt like roots, with no clear sense of where to turn. We even share the concussive slap of one death after another, with never enough time to get our balance back. We take a fine, subtle journey to the darkest place.
Death Play is not a complaint, though, nor is it mourning. It is a play. Ever engaging, Dring takes us into her life, where she (and we) must accepts the stones of grief. But then she tosses them like paper, or at least carries them lightly like papier maché. For all her serious depth, Dring’s persistent lightness bespeaks survival, overcoming; her tale, and her enactment of it, suggest that until death takes us, it can help to make us.
All this is no small achievement for an hour-long solo work. Producer Camille Schenkkan, director Jessica Hanna, and Circle X are to be congratulated for reviving this successful offspring of last year’s Son of Semele Solo Creation Festival, and bringing it to wider audiences.
Death Play, written and performed by Lisa Dring, directed by Jessica Hanna.
Presented by Circle X Theatre Co., at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles 90039.
Thursdays (April 7 and 21) at 8:00,
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00,
Sundays (April 3 and 17) at 7:00,
Monday (April 11) at 8:00 —
through April 23.