The Nexus Between Life and Death Will Always Be Found in Nature

by guest reviewer Richard Thompson

The nexus between life and death will always be found in nature. It’s only natural. It’s not just the sounds of innocent children’s laughter and birds chirping in the prelude or the cacophony of jungle beasts making feral noises when finding a seat in the auditorium of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Life abound is felt; nature is imbibed. Yet, these stages in life wouldn’t tell the complete story of nature without the aged glass cases that stood as sad celebrity sarcophaguses to dead beetles, moths, and scorpions. And in the end, the production Herman: The Naturalist takes us through every facet of life and death, only to be reborn. With a nice red radio to boot.

Grant Bashore in Herman: The Naturalist. Photo courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Grant Bashore in Herman: The Naturalist. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Inspired by stories learned of his family’s past, Grant Bashore takes on all aspects of nature and life inextricably tied to us through a series of narratives between individuals. The story begins far in the future, introducing us as an alien research team approaching a now mostly decimated earth where the hope and folly of humanity are explained through the lasting words of a mysterious school-bus-turned-museum owner who may or may not have made it out of Guatemala in the mid-1900s. I’ll let you take that in.

Bashore takes the performing lead and transforms into each of the five characters with such distinction that each character seemed to be performed by a different actor. T, the alien captain and leader to the audience, provides the setting, tells us why we are here, and where we are going. He uses a finely tuned mix of audience recognition, without audience engagement, that provides smooth transition between scenes and, when questions are asked of us they are both rhetorical and answerable.  

Grant Bashore as T. Photo courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Grant Bashore as T. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The family members of the now worshipped title character Herman retain a 20th-century Midwestern tint and are represented in reenacted interviews discussing how each member is facing the reality that a family member may be gone. “Dead” seems to be too hard a word to say. No one wants to acknowledge death, but even as the words try to slip out of Stewart, Herman’s older, stoic brother, even he couldn’t recognize the truth he knows inside.

As these various narratives are told, Bashore utilizes familiar forms of communication for both humor and introspection. From faded interviews, real reenactments, memories, and musical interludes integrated with contemporary movements highly influenced through Stanislavskyian form, his skills of blending mime and spoken word provide layers of emotion and meaning to even the subtlest of movements. It’s this physicality that elevates this theatrical art form.

Staged and choreographed with Rick Warner, Bashore dominates the stage with an undeniable physicality. Trained in active analysis his mastery of phsycophysicality through proprioception provides a performance that exemplifies a true understanding of decision and gesture that elevates methods of physicality and movement in the performing arts. At each moment, the audience can see the inception of a character’s motivation, extending into the decision each of these people make before they even decide to react. It’s a testament to his ability to transform into… anything on the stage. Fingertips turn to raindrops, palms and forearms turn to oceanic life, and even a low-rhythmic bounce of a worn-out bus as its fatigued drivers prepares to move on.

This storytelling could not be done without the deft management behind the production’s light and sound design. Lighting Designer, Lawrence Ware, along with Bashore, devised an integration of extreme opposites in light and dark that will both comfort and confuse the audience. While keeping with pure whites and blacks, Ware also infused many moments with deep reddish hues that feel like death is the only recourse, while breathing a sense of relief back into the scene with a variety of blues that fend off the plight brought from the ominous reds.

Much of the production relies on sounds, music, and auditory effects (created by Bashore and Assistant Sound Designer Christopher Hill). The amazing use of engine noise, sound skips, and instrumental pieces heighten the visuals on stage. The set design was minimalist with the exception of an old burgundy radio that was resting on its side, allowing for Bashore to provide the world we would be envisioning. This minimalism is stretched to most of the costuming, but it needs to be noted that Costume Seamstress Callie Hutchison was able to weave an impressive collection of outfits that touch science-fiction sensibilities while retaining its foundation in the world without taking us out of the story of a man named Herman.

This minimalism extends to a lack of women in the cast. While the FireFly Gang comprises of an up and coming actress already showing stage presence (Willow Falcón), the majority of women’s influence in the piece is relegated to off-stage roles. 

It can hardly be surprising that a one-man physical performance would have very few mentions of women, and even more difficulty in properly representing the opposite sex without it turning into an absurd – or thoughtless – characterization, as opposed to a relatable character. However, there are no words that properly illustrate the haunting transition of voice when Bashore is reading journal entry as Florence, only to transform into Herman himself as he is writing the excerpt she is reading. There are not enough tissues to prepare one for that. 

Herman: The Naturalist asks the audience to accept the entirety of nature. We can’t float through life like the children at the prelude (Marco Amoroso, Sebastian Falcón, Willow Falcón), run away from life and its expectations like Herman’s father, ignore and deflect our personal hurt like Florence, or just pretend it’s all okay, like Herman did. We have to hope. Hope for life. Hope for ourselves. Hope for others. Hope for something more than us. And maybe, even, hope for a run-down school bus turned into a museum by a man named Herman.

Herman: The Naturalist runs through Friday, October 11 at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, by calling the box office at (520) 448-3300, or in-person an hour prior to the show.

 

About the guest reviewer:
Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson (Actor) was born in Kokomo, Indiana. He has no relevant education from any formal institution in theater or film. His writing career comprises of columnist work for The Arizona Daily Star, editor for Persona Magazine, content creator of Looking Back manuscript for P.C.C., Sandscript Magazine contributor, and editor and columnist for Gourmet News for which he received a James Beard nomination for his article, “Holy See-Food”. He is also a Hearst Poet and a published IEEE author (2018-2019), as well as a technical writer whose proposals, grants and speeches have totaled in over $250k in gained between 2016 to now. Since 2017, The Community Players produced his stage play, Last Call, followed by performances in No Admittance (Bill Bowen) and One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest (Chief), numerous Radio Theater shows, backstage crew for ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ (A Midsummer’s Night Dream) as well as multiple roles in musical shows. In 2018, he worked under Eugenia Wood in Hark, with Ron Athey, Cassils, and Arshia Fatima in Cyclic, and produced his original manuscript The GRANDest Pageant. Films include RiseThe Righteous Twelve, and The GRANDest Pageant. In 2019, he founded Graveyard Production Company (www.gyproco.com) and will perform Exist.

What to Expect Going Down the Rabbit Hole

by China Young

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire is a wonderfully scripted story that explores five individuals processing the loss of a child. This production, directed by Vince Flynn  running at Community Players, is sad, funny, poignant, and viscerally relatable. Before I get into any more details, I want to strongly encourage you to go see Rabbit Hole. The night I attended did not have the audience these performers or this story deserve.

The cast of Rabbit Hole. Photo by Paul Brunelle, courtesy of The Community Players.

The cast of Rabbit Hole. Photo by Paul Brunelle, courtesy of The Community Players.

Now, the story. Becca Corbet (Meagan Jones), is a stay-at-home mom to Danny, who is killed in a tragic accident at four years old. Jones’s performance is honest and impactful. I could feel the depth of her pain, and how, at times, she resisted dealing with it. Eric Rau brings truth and vulnerability to Becca’s husband Howie as he attempts to heal his wife’s grief by recapturing the passion they once had even though he is simultaneously holding onto his own grief by privately watching old home movies of his late son. Becca and Howie struggle to find common ground following the loss of their son. They seem to choose different, and often conflicting, methods of grieving as they strive to learn how to live with the pain. Jones, Rau, and Flynn never abandon this subtext. Whether it is present in the spatial relationships between the couple or in the inability to reconnect to one another emotionally, this struggle is present throughout.

Izzy (Michele Holland), Becca’s younger sister, serves as a sort of beacon for second chances. We learn early in the first scene that she is pregnant, something that isn’t easily shared considering the family’s recent loss. As is often the case with being the youngest sibling, she has had the privilege of few responsibilities and the freedom to “f— up” and she believes having a baby will help her get her act together. Holland gives Izzy an appropriate amount of “last born” attitude and naivete, though she isn’t without her moments of mature profundity.

Nat (Sydney Flynn), Becca and Izzy’s mother, has also lost a child, her adult son. Though the circumstances surrounding his death and that of Danny’s are significantly different, she can’t help but compare the two in her attempts to console and relate to her daughter’s loss. Flynn is delightfully natural in her portrayal of Nat, fully embodying the wisdom of someone who has experienced deep levels of grief more than once in her life.

Finally, there is Jason Willette (Stephen Dunham), a teenager who writes a story for the grieving family as a sort of apology for having a role in the loss of their child. Dunham brings a natural innocence and kindness to Jason that supports and motivates Becca’s willingness to bring him into her home.

The technical elements of the show were hit and miss for me, although they did their part to support the world that was created by the director and actors. Sound design was disappointing. In addition to several cues misfiring, I yearned for transitional music, of which it completely lacked. Perhaps it was intentionally excluded from this production, but I believe this is a show that opens its audience up to their own levels of vulnerability in such a way that they need some musical interludes to help ride the arcs of the characters and process their own experience.

The set, designed and crafted by Scott Berg, Bobbi Whitson, and Eric Everts, is skillfully crafted and I was impressed at how every inch of available space was used to craft the Corbets’ home. My only critique is that it is very busy. There are a lot of patterns and conflicting decorative styles that distracted me from the action at times.

The costumes were simple and modern, and there seemed to be intentional color palettes that were used specifically between Becca and Nat. There is not a costume designer listed in their program leaving me to assume that it was a choice of the actors or a happy accident borne from the actors time and work together. Either way, it amplified the bond between the mother and daughter that now shared the experiencing of losing of a son.

Part of our mission of Taming of the Review is to ask “why tell this story and why tell it now?” For me that answer comes as the entire family is discussing the Kennedy family and, unironically, the variety of tragic deaths that the family has endured. Nat flippantly categorizes the private plane crashes and assassinations by crazed gunmen as “rich issues.” Despite the humor in it, I found myself suddenly considering all the lives that have been lost to families across this country and across the world to “crazed gunmen.” Death, no matter how rich or poor, big or small, old or young, is not a “rich issue.” That loss is universal.

The characters in Rabbit Hole are all dealing with loss in their own way.The conflict among them is driven by their lack of acceptance and understanding that every single one of them is grieving differently. This show is a gentle acknowledgement that it is difficult to make space for others grief, especially if it manifests differently from our own. It also perhaps nudges us to be more accepting of those differences, even while experiencing our own grief. I think it is safe to say our society could use more than a gentle reminder of this as we struggle to understand and overcome our growing divisions on a daily basis.  

Image courtesy of The Community Players.

Image courtesy of The Community Players.

Rabbit Hole continues at Community Players, 1881 N Oracle Rd, Tucson, AZ 85705, on Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 7:30, and Sunday at 2:00 through May 19th. You can buy tickets online CommunityPlayersTucson.org or by calling 887-6239.