03 Nov Heart’s Content
Genesis West Theater Company Opens Its Season with Blue Heart
by Felicia M. Tomasko
Genesis West is not exactly celebrating its initial genesis this year with the opening of the 2005-2006 season. The company was started back in 1998 by current director and producer Maurice Lord, and playwright and former Indy arts editor Michael Smith. Their ’90s genesis ushered in innovative theater and focused on contemporary playwrights, people whose works were not being seen anywhere else in Santa Barbara. This mission gave Genesis West a reputation for being adventurous and daring. But, when Michael Smith moved to the Pacific Northwest and Maurice Lord took on a series of directing gigs in Los Angeles, Genesis West went on hiatus-until now.
This weekend, Genesis West begins celebrating its resurgence, with full-time producer and director Lord reviving the innovative spirit of the company, now an official nonprofit organization. For its rebirth, the company is performing a season of plays by award-winning British writer Caryl Churchill, one of today’s most celebrated and innovative playwrights. The company will debut with Blue Heart, and in the spring will feature Churchill’s Far Away, which premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2000.
Lord chose Blue Heart because, as he said over coffee and with a twinkle in his eyes, “It is a play I would like to see.” The two pieces that make up Blue Heart-“Heart’s Desire” and “Blue Kettle”-are described by the author as “anti-plays” because they defy traditional notions of theater and the usual mechanisms of storytelling. Thus they challenge not only the actors and the director, but also the audience, a risky strategy that, in the hands of Genesis West, is likely to make for a rewarding evening. With any play, Lord points out, it is necessary for the audience to suspend disbelief and to be taken on a journey. Blue Heart makes this journey one in which seat belts are required.
In “Heart’s Desire,” Churchill dismantles our preconceived notions of time, as a daughter’s return home is played again and again from slightly different angles, and with an ever-increasing progression of events added to the story. The set for “Heart’s Desire” includes a rotating stage and a number of surprises that should prove exciting visually.
“Blue Kettle” uses dialogue to explore, of all things, the irrelevance of language. As the play progresses, the dialogue’s original words are intermittently substituted for by the words “blue” and “kettle.” Although this may at first seem absurd, “the dialogue is not disintegrated, but changed,” according to actor Emma-Jane Huerta. “If you’re paying attention, it should make perfect sense,” insists Chris Turner, who is also appearing in the show. Although the format is certainly unusual, the story remains intact. Chris Turner plays a forty-something man who, in seeking his adoptive mother, ends up collecting several mothers by conning women who gave up babies in their youth and manipulating their heartstrings. Or should I say pulling at their blue kettles?
Blue Heart is an ensemble piece, and many of the actors that Lord describes as his “Dream Team” are familiar to Santa Barbara theater-goers, including: Chris Turner, Kati Soleil, Emma-Jane Huerta, Leslie Gangl Howe, and Tom Hinshaw. The ubiquitous and talented Tal Sanders has designed the sets, and a Genesis West co-founder has returned to Santa Barbara to create the play’s lighting.
Genesis West opens Blue Heart on Saturday, November 5, 8 p.m. at Center Stage Theater. Plays Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m., through November 19. Tickets $15-$20. Call Center Stage for tickets at 963-0408. For more information, visit genesiswest.org.