In Saltwick’s scenes of mythic women, it isn’t a lotus that grows out of the mud but the character of Pandora (Alicia Hunt), the first woman, who rises out of the earth, uncertain of who … or what … she is, but delighted in the exploration of her newfound personhood … and appendages.
Throughout the one-act play, directed by Camille Beaumont, a series of creatures, a new one arriving each time Pandora opens the large box in the center of the sand-covered stage, emerges, deals with her own identity and helps Pandora learn a little bit more about herself.
This is, then, a series of vignettes, each giving a particular actress a moment to shine, without a clear unifying feature, but we get the opportunity to see some of the best young female talent that Davis has produced.
Hunt, herself, remains on stage throughout, exploring her new selfhood and the things she learns from watching the other creatures, while she remains invisible to them. She is engaging and sparkles with the enthusiasm of a child learning about her new world.
Hope Raymond as Amelia the Mermaid is giddy with joy over discovering she has feet, but struggles to learn how to use them, finally succeeding with the help of Jason (Kane Chai), who for some reason falls in love with her instantly.
Through Bianca the Unicorn (Tatiana Ray) and her mother Juno (Sarah Cohen, perhaps the most prolific actress of the Davis area), we learn that teenage angst and mother-daughter relationship conflicts aren’t confined to the two-legged species. Now that she has a brand new horn, Bianca is desperate to get out and run with her peers, though her mother is cautious and wants her to stay home another year. It’s a scene any parent can relate to.
Betsy Raymond cuts loose as Dahlia the Dragon, all fire and brimstone as she rails about her upcoming marriage, and wonders who is to be her husband. She is assisted by the puppet artistry of Kane Chai, Allie Polubiec, Maddy Ryen and Tim Smith, unseen but manipulating Muppet-like puppets.
Cohen is back again, as Marilyn the Shape shifter, a role she shares with Polubiec, as both complain about their delicate condition, how it happened, and how they can get rid of their protuberant problem.
Ryen has one of the better scenes of the night as Cecilia the Selkie, one of those mythological characters found in Irish and Scottish folklore who are seals in the sea, but human on land. While Celia stands at a table making guacamole and discussing her life, and how much she will miss spicy foods when she returns to the sea, Betsy Raymond, is costumed as an amorphous blob, Cecilia’s coat, which she will need when she is a seal again, wriggling about Cecilia’s feet
If I got the next scene right (the dialog wasn’t always clear), Hope Raymond is a woman, rising out of the flames of her burning house to become Aixa the Phoenix, while her husband Greg (Rodney Orosco), not recognizing his reincarnated wife, assumes she is still in the house and becomes frantic about getting her out of the flames. Clothed in red, with bright red hair, Raymond is perfect in the part. As for Orosco, the pain on his face at the thought of losing his wife to the fire is very moving.
Cohen is back once again as Medusa the Gorgon, with hissing snakes in her hair, having a touching reunion with her old friend Helen (Ryen), literally as well as figuratively.
Ray closes out the evening as Emma the Sphinx, wise, serene and posing riddles to help Pandora figure out what she has just witnessed in all of these creatures.
In the end, each of these she creatures has learned how her life experience shapes the person she is becoming and Pandora learns what it is to be a woman.
Artistic direction for “She Creatures” was by Steven Schmidt, with Ian Wallace as scenic designer, who has created what looks like everybody’s attic from which the creatures emerge. (I’m sure working in a real barn was a great help in finding eclectic pieces to use!)
Costumes design is by Elizabeth Hadden, who looks like she had a lot of fun creating a lot of the costumes, particularly Medusa’s wig.
Chris Oca did lighting design, effectively making Pandora’s box spooky and creating a believable, if brief, display of fireworks set off by Dahlia the Dragon, for example.
This is an odd little play, but the performances of these talented women make it worth a trip out to Schmeiser’s Barn to celebrate Barnyard Theater’s 10th summer presenting thought-provoking and always entertaining plays to the Davis community.
Barnyard always thoughtfully provides mosquito repellant for the audience, who will sit for a couple of hours in an open barn, but based on where I was eaten alive throughout the show, I recommend a good all-over dousing before leaving home.