Monday, January 26, 2009

Performance Coverage: Eric Gansworth's RE-CREATION STORY

Circuitry and Storytelling

Eric Gansworth’s Re-Creation Story, November 15, 8pm
Cast: Billy Merasty, Dylan Carusona, Joe Cross, Michelle St. John, Monique Mojica, Kim Rosen, Avia Bushyhead

By Tom Pearson

When an accomplished contemporary artist like Eric Gansworth, fluent in the languages of poetry, prose, and visual art, decides that his latest endeavor is a dramatic work, the results are rightfully pastiche, a post-modern amalgamation of his writing, painting, and performative aspects all woven into a complex tapestry. Or better yet, a circuit board of disparate, yet connecting impulses. Gansworth’s play, Re-Creation Story had its reading on November 15, 2008 at The Public Theater.

The subject matter immediately presents the playwright with a conundrum of sorts, how to render himself autobiographically as the title character of the work while recreating an actual event in his life where he endeavors to re-tell the Creation Story of Haudenosaunee. There’s a lot of “Re’s.” Then, there’s a consideration of cultural sensitivity and ownership which is most often addressed as an advance apology for all that the writer does not know, and with a heavy dose of the self-referential.

The company consisted of Billy Merasty reading the part of Eric Gansworth and supported by a cast of characters representing various ages and occupations as they relate to him, including: Dylan Carusona, Joe Cross, Michelle St. John, Monique Mojica, Kim Rosen, and Avia Bushyhead on stage directions. Additionally, slide projections behind the podium where Merasty speaks often support his postulations by incorporating Gansworth paintings. More frequently though, the slides layer an additional voice onto the narrative with written comments becoming a kind of two dimensional character that speaks sassily back to the character of Eric and the audience.

The fragmented narrative begins with an effort to tell the Creation Story of the Haudenosaunee and is quickly complicated by the enormity of the task and the self-realization on the author’s part that he is not a storyteller. A misstep, involving an inadvertent reply to an email list-serv, suddenly elicits a multitude of advice from the wider population and quickly shows us the complications of ownership and variation within the telling of this tale. Mojica’s elder adult female character advises, “Bring some tobacco with you and hope for the best.” An adult male, played by Cross, offers, “Apologize for every error you’re about to make. That’s the traditional way.”

But what starts as a story about the telling of a story suddenly becomes a story about family, community, loss, and a personal relationship between a mother and son. And while Gansworth’s voice is front and center, the textures of all the other voices buoy it along, and not just within the cast, but also through pop references and invocations of Joanne Shenandoah (singing the women’s shuffle song at the beginning of the reading), Laurie Anderson, and Tears for Fears.

Luckily, director Leigh Silverman is no stranger to autobiographical, meta-theatrical work. In fact, she revels in the challenge that they present. Her deft handling of the material is like that of a careful weaver, surveying the threads and beginning to pattern them in a way that brings about the larger effect. Or, again, maybe a technician soldering each piece within the circuitry, making sure the connections are ready to fire.

Re-Creation Story stands as an example of a work that deals with Native issues in the present tense, issues about preservation but also issues that center on readying tradition for the future, all filtered through the individual experience of the telling of the stories. Somehow, through the meeting of the author’s complex writing, the director’s careful touch, and a cast that brings a great deal of weight and experience to the reading, we feel the circuitry complete. We feel the energy and see the results, even if we don’t understand the mechanics involved or are unable to track just how we got there. That’s the magic of circuitry, and of theater at its most complex. And when the play finishes, no matter how circuitous the journey may have been, we do finally see the tapestry: simple, beautiful, interconnected, and complete.

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The post-performance discussion following the reading of Re-Creation Story featured playwrights Eric Gansworth, Daniel David Moses, Edward Wemytewa, and director Leigh Silverman discussing issues in bringing oral tradition to the stage. Read the full transcript of that discussion here.